José de NEBRA
(1702 - 1768)
Esta Dulzura Amable - Sacred cantatas
Que contrario, Señor, Cantada al Santísimo
Alienta fervorosa, Candata al Santísimo [13:19]
Sonata for harpsichord in e minor* [13:40]
Entre cándidos, bellos, Cantada al Santísimo
Llegad, llegad, creyentes, Cantada al Santísimo [9:31]
María Espada (soprano)
Al Ayre Español/Eduardo López Banzo (harpsichord*)
rec. 10 - 15 November 2010, Ermita Virgen del Rosario, Ambel, Spain.
Texts and translations included
CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC72509
There was a time when musicologists believed Spanish composers
of the 18th century were aiming to preserve a 'pure' Spanish
style and to resist the influence from Italy which was spreading
over the rest of Europe. More recent research has shown that
even in the 17th century some Italian influence was to be found,
in particular in the writing of secular songs for solo voice
and basso continuo. From the end of that century the Italian
style also manifested itself in other genres, including sacred
music. These cantatas bear witness to that.
José de Nebra was born in Calatayud into a family of
musicians. He received his first musical training from his father
who was the organist of Cuenca cathedral and teacher of the
choirboys. He would later be promoted to maestro de capilla
of the cathedral. Two of José's brothers were also musicians
and worked as organists in various cathedrals. José moved
to Madrid in 1719, where he worked as organist in a convent
and then as a member of the chapel of an aristocratic family,
where he became the colleague of Antonio de Literes. He also
began composing music for various theatres. In 1724 he became
organist of the royal chapel and in 1751 was appointed as the
chapel's vicemaestro. In this capacity he had the duty
of replacing the church music which had been lost in a fire
at the royal palace in 1734. He showed his inclination for Italian
music by suggesting the purchase of compositions by Neapolitan
composers as Alessandro Scarlatti and Leonardo Leo.
This taste for Italian music is also reflected in the four cantatas
which Eduardo López Banzo has selected from Nebra's large
output. Apart from liturgical music on Latin texts Nebra wrote
a large number of spiritual compositions on Spanish texts. These
four cantatas are all for solo voice, two violins and basso
continuo, and written al Santísimo, for the Holy
Sacrament. They consist of two aria and recitative pairs, in
a purely operatic style. They have much in common with the solo
cantatas by Vivaldi. The operatic character of these cantatas
is emphasized by the sometimes virtuosic cadenzas incldued by
María Espada. On occasion this goes a bit too far, but
on the whole the practice seems well judged.
Que contrario, Señor begins with a fiery recitative,
about man turning away from God. It is followed by a aria
cantable: "Your love offers peace". There is a strong contrast
between the A and B sections, the latter expressing the "tremendous
madness" of man. The last aria depicts the spiritual battle
of man: "Go man happily to battle, defeat your disdain and evil
if you hope to proclaim victory". The aria is dominated by fanfare
figures, and each "cantar" (proclaim [victory]) is decorated
with extended coloratura.
In baroque era cantatas images of birds and of the sea are frequently
used. These sacred cantatas are no different in that respect.
Alienta fervorosa is about man being urged to reach for
"this candid food", the sacrament. The first aria uses the image
of a bird: "Fly, fly fervently to the mysterious sphere with
wings of love". "Vuela" (fly) and "alas" (wings) are suggested
by coloratura. The last aria begins with the line "Ven, ven
del Libano", better known in its Latin version: "Veni de Libano",
a verse from The Song of Songs which has frequently been
set to music. The B section ends with another cadenza which
emphasizes a keyword, "perfecciona"([the Divine Bread] perfects
Entre cándidos, bellos is again about the sacrament,
here referred to in the first recitative as "Divine delicacy".
In the A section of the first aria "adorele" (adore) is singled
out, whereas the B section juxtaposes the images of Jesus as
a lamb and as a lion: "though you see him as a lamb he can be
a lion". The latter part is rightly emphasized by María
Espada by adding a cadenza and singing forte. The last aria
makes use of the images of the sea and the storm, and Nebra
depicts them in an almost Vivaldian manner.
The last cantata, Llegad, llegad, creyentes, is the least
dramatic of the four. The first aria is again termed 'cantabile'.
It refers to the side of Jesus at the cross which was stabbed
by the soldiers and from which the soul is urged to drink. Words
like "sweetness", "grace" and "perfection" determine the rather
intimate character of this aria. The cantata ends with the joyful
words: "Await with fervour, enjoy, happy soul, the palm and
the laurel of victory".
The programme is completed with a keyboard sonata. Nebra was
known as a brilliant organist, and was the teacher of, among
others, Antonio Soler. He worked for the royal family at the
same time as Domenico Scarlatti, and there are clear similarities
between their respective keyboard works. The Sonata in e
minor is in three movements: allegro - corrente viva - vivo.
The former is fugal, and the sonata contains various passages
This disc sheds light on a little-known composer from the 18th
century in Spain. This period in Spanish music history is largely
unknown anyway, and only in the last ten years or so Spanish
early-music specialists are exploring this part of their musical
heritage. Eduardo López Banzo is one of them, and he
has made various fine recordings with this repertoire. This
disc is a very good addition to the growing catalogue. López
Banzo couldn't have made a better choice than María Espada
to sing the solo parts. She has everything needful to explore
the character of these cantatas to the full. She takes the right
amount of rhythmic freedom in the recitatives, and sings the
arias with true operatic fervour. In the more intimate passages
she shows great sensitivity towards the text and its content.
The instrumental parts are also well executed, and Banzo serves
up a compelling performance of the sonata.
There is every reason to enthusiastically welcome this disc:
both music and interpretation are of fine quality. In the booklet
Banzo tells us how he found these cantatas - in the archive
of the cathedral of Guatemala City - but there’s little
about the music or the composer.
Johan van Veen