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The Organs of the Balearic Islands - Volume 1
Track-listing at end of review
Michal Novenko (MN) and Arnau Reynés (AR) (organs)
rec. 8-12 May 2006
PRIORY PRCD 879 [78:37]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Organs of the Balearic Islands - Volume 2
Track-listing at end of review
Michal Novenko (MN) and Arnau Reynés (AR) (organs)
rec. 8-12 May 2006
PRIORY PRCD 1014 [79:46]
Experience Classicsonline

Many years ago, probably about 1963, I went to see a primary school friend off on holiday. She and her parents were leaving from Glasgow Renfrew Airport and were bound for Majorca. I remember poring over the atlas with my father looking for this new ‘Morecambe’. A few years earlier, my Auntie Mary and her friend Queenie had visited this Mediterranean paradise and had brought me back a toy drum, a pair of castanets and a packet of stamps for my album featuring General Franco. I still have the drum! Both my school-friend and my aunt were pioneers at the beginning of the post-war package holiday boom. It was to be another forty-odd years before I set foot on one of the Balearic Islands. And it was to Palma Cathedral that I immediately made tracks. Luckily the Gabriel Blancafort organ was playing when I arrived. Although I explored a few more churches, I heard no further music.

Just to expel any doubt, the Balearics are an archipelago of islands in the Western Mediterranean off the eastern coast of Spain. There are four principal islands: Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera. The present two CDs showcase music from the first three islands although it does concentrate on Mallorca and Palma, its main town.

Although these two CDs were released in 2009 and 2011, all the recordings were made by Michal Novenko and Arnau Reynés during a five-day sojourn on the islands in May 2006. It must have been a major ‘organ bash’ indeed and one to be envied by most organ enthusiasts.

It is useful to note a few of biographical details about the performers. The Czech-born Michal Novenko (b.1962) studied organ, composition and conducting at the Prague Conservatoire and the Academy of Music and Arts in Prague. At present he is a professor of music at the Conservatoire but also extends his teaching to master-classes at home and abroad. He is widely noted as being an expert in historical organs and has made many recordings of historic instruments. Three of Novenko’s works appear on these CDs – Two Hymn Preludes on Volume 1 are improvisations on Balearic hymn tunes and the short Prelude on ‘Good tidings are announced’ (Volume 2) is based on a Czech carol.

Arnau Reynés (b.1957) is a local boy: he was born at Campanet, Mallorca. He studied piano and organ locally at the Conservatory of Baleares and later on the Spanish mainland at the Conservatory of Valencia. At present he is a professor of music at the University of Baleares and is also the titular organist of the Basilica de Sant Francesc, Palma de Mallorca. He has also written a book about Mallorcan organs. Two short works are recorded in the church at Reynés’ birth-place: Jaume Palou’s Deo Gratias and Antoni Martorell’s Misterio della Cena.

The liner-notes make a justified claim that the ‘Island of Mallorca’ belongs to one of the most interesting and richest (of organ) territories. Now I have not read Arnau Reynés’ book, but even the most cursory of hearings of these two CDs will impress the truth of the assertion on the listener. The notes accept that that majority of fine instruments are on Mallorca, but suggest that both Menorca and Ibiza have fine instruments. However the most exciting fact is that the ‘organ world’ on the Balearics has been fortunate in having a number of recent new instruments as well as some important rebuilds and restorations.

I have included a list of organs, their locations and their builders and dates below for reference:-

Church/Town

Island

Organ Builder and Build Date

Sant Josep de sa Talaia, Ibiza

Ibiza

Pere Reynés i Florit 2006

Basilica de Sant Francesc, Palma de Mallorca

Mallorca

Gerhard Grenzing 2008

Campenet

Mallorca

Pere Reynés i Florit 1996

Convent de Sant Domingo, Pollenca

Mallorca

Lluís Navarro, 1732

Palma Cathedral, ‘La Seu’

Mallorca

Gabriel Blancafort, 1993

Església del Socors, Palma de Mallorca

Mallorca

Caymari Brothers 1702

Sant Domingo, Inca

Mallorca

Caymari Brothers c.1690

Santa Creu, Palma de Mallorca

Mallorca

Pere Josep Bosch 1770 and Julià Munar 1900

Santa Jaume, Palma de Mallorca

Mallorca

Antoni Portell 1837-53

Santa Maria la Major, Inca

Mallorca

Gabriel Thomás 1816-22 and 1827-32

Santa Maria del Camí

Mallorca

Lluís Navarro, 1742

Sencelles

Mallorca

Matheu Bosch, 1746

Ciutadella Cathedral

Menorca

Gabriel Blancafort, 1993

Santa Maria, Maó

Menorca

Johannes Kyburz, 1810


Someone once said to me that all ‘church’ organs sound the same. I guess that I can partly sympathise with this view: it may often seem like this in some churches where registration amounts to the use of only 8 stops played in a reverential pianissimo for five minutes before the service begins. However the present selection of organs blows away this stereotype. I do not think I have ever heard such a large variety of timbres, pipe voicings and registrations as presented on these two discs.

I do not intend to review each and every piece; however it is useful to note that they fall largely into two groups. The first is the typical Iberian - including the Portuguese composer Diego de Conceiçao - music from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries featuring a fair selection of works by Antonio de Cabezón who is regarded as the ‘spiritual father of Spanish organ music’. Other composers from this period include Francisco de Peraza and Joan Cabanilles who was one of the most important composers of Baroque music and has been hailed as the ‘Spanish Bach’.

The second group of composers is from the twentieth century. All of these names are unfamiliar to me; however I expect that they are or will be an important part of the organists’ world in Spain … and the Czech Republic.

I was particularly impressed with the Czech composer Richard Stehlik’s Toccata which is given a fine performance in Basilica de Sant Francis, Palma de Mallorca. Another war-horse is the ‘Toccata de Pasqua’ by Miquel Angel Roig-Francoli. It is a complex set of variations on a plain-song theme. I enjoyed Miguel Capllonch’s Marxa (March) Pontifical and its mind-blowing use of reed stops is absolutely stunning. It ought to be a favourite far beyond Mallorca where it was composed. Finally, J.S. Bach is represented with one work – the Chorale and variations: ‘Wer nur den lieben Gott lasst walten’.

My recommendation for listening to these CDs is to take them a ‘church at a time’ rather than listen to the entire 140 minutes plus. Only then will the fine variety of both music and organ sound be appreciated.

The production is excellent. How the producer managed to balance the recordings of the organs in the churches and chapels is a mystery to me. Yet each location naturally has its own acoustic and this is convincingly translated onto the individual tracks.

The liner-notes provide the essential organ specification details which make fascinating reading. Of especial interest is the ‘Batalla’ manual on the organ of Palma Cathedral which is a collection of ‘heavy’ reed stops no doubt once used to simulate a ‘battle’! There are some superb illustrations of the instruments in the CD booklets.

It is virtually impossible to find any criticisms of these discs. However, one or two minor details did cross my mind. Firstly, there is precious little written about the music – just enough to enable an enjoyable hearing, but not enough to satisfy the most curious of listeners. This is a repertoire that is largely unknown to the majority of British music enthusiasts. Most of the pieces lacked any ‘date of composition’ – it is only possible to situate most of these pieces in their era.

Finally, the composer Jaume Palou is shown on the track-listings as being born in 1988 and dying in 2002. The oldest he could have been when he wrote his excellent Deo Gratias is fourteen years old. Is this a typo?

Yet these are minor points: anyone interested in the life and works of Joan Cabanilles or Bartolomeu Veny i Vidal can look them up on the net or in Grove.

These are two excellent CDs that explore an area of Spain that is well loved by many people living in Britain. I guess that for every ten thousand tourists who step off the plane at Aeroport de Palma de Mallorca only one will have pipe organs on their holiday agenda. However, many will visit Palma Cathedral and some of the other churches as either sight-seers or worshippers. Whatever the case, these CDs are a stimulating memento of these superb instruments. They are also an encouragement to explore the organs and churches of the Balearics, and an invitation to enjoy some (largely) Spanish organ music that is relatively little known in the United Kingdom. Next time I am in Palma, I will spend a little less time eating the delicious paella and imbibing the local red wine, and a little more time in church!

John France

Track-listing

Volume 1
Església del Socors, Palma de Mallorca (AR)
Antoni MATHEU
(1933-1984)
Introitus for organ [3:02]
Diego da CONCEIÇÄO (17th century)
Batalha [5:27]
Joan CABANILLES (1644-1712)
Gallardas [6:10]
Santa Maria del Camí (AR)
Joan CABANILLES
Tiento partido de mano derecha [8:04]
Sencelles (MN)
Joan CABANILLES
Tiento de falsas [4:12]
Francisco de PERAZA (1564-1598)
Medio reistro alto, 1. tono [3:13]
Antonio de CABEZÓN (1510-1566)
Composiciones para dos partes [2:12]
Versos del 1 tono [2:18]
Ciutadella Cathedral (Menorca) (MN)
Michal NOVENKO (b.1962)
Hymn prelude [4:06]
Hymn prelude [2:56]
Palma Cathedral, ‘La Seu’ (MN)
Michal NOVENKO
Capriccio [2:58]
Bartomeu VENY I VIDAL (b.1940)
Recordança [4:38]
Variations [9:49]
Campenet (AR)
Jaume PALOU (19??-2002)
Deo Gratias [3:57]
Antoni MARTORELL (1913-2009)
Misterio della Cena
[4:00]
Santa Maria, Maó (Menorca) (AR)
Miguel CAPLLONCH (1861-1935)
Marxa pontifical [9:40]

Volume 2
Santa Creu, Palma de Mallorca (MN)
ANON (18th century) Batalla in C [2:57]
Juan SESSE (1736-1801)
Paso sobre el Himno ‘O Gloriosa Virginum’ [7:24]
Santa Jaume, Palma de Mallorca (MN)
Juan SESSE
Preludio y Intento en Fa [(6:43]
Convent de Sant Domingo, Pollenca (MN)
Alonso MUDARRA (c 1510-1580)
Tiento para harpa o organo [1:10]
Joan CABANILLES (1644-1712)
Tiento de falsas [5:37]
(attrib.) Tiento Ileno [5:23]
ANON.
Anonymous Piece [0:34]
ANON.
Cocquiel Manuscript (1741) Cornet [0:53]
Sant Domingo, Inca (MN)
Antonio de CABEZÓN (1510-1566)
Magnificat quarti toni [5:01]
4 versos tertii toni *[2:52] (2:52]
Tiento sobre ‘Qui la dira’ [4:07]
Santa Maria la Major, Inca (AR)
Antonio VALENTE (fl. 1565-1580)
La Romanesca con cinque mutanze [3:03]
J.S. BACH (1685-1750)
Chorale and variations: ‘Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten’ [5:00]
Pablo BRUNA (1611-1679)
Tiento de 1.tono de mano derecha [4:04]
Sant Josep de sa Talaia, Ibiza (AR)
Miquel Angel ROIG-FRANCOLÍ (b.1953)
Toccata de Pasqua [5:42]
Adolfo VILLALONGA (b.1970)
Variations on Pange Lingua [4:41]
Basilica de Sant Francesc, Palma de Mallorca (MN)
Antoni MARTORELL (1913-2009)
‘Guarda questa offerta’ [4:27]
‘Ti esalto’ [3:42]
Michal NOVENKO (b.1962)
‘Good tidings are announced’ [1:04]
Richard STEHLÍK (b.1960)
Toccata [2:50]

 

 


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