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Joan Baptista CABANILLES (1644-1712)
Complete Vocal Music
Beatus á 12 [13.44]
Mass a 6 [19.36]
Magnificat a 12 [9.00]
Mortales que amais a un Dios immortal [12.48]
CD 2 [48.55]
Ah! del a región celeste a 15 [15.41]
El galán que ronda las callas a 2 [5.51]
Atiende a mis suspiros a 4 [4.29]
Arroyuelo no huyas a 4 [4.42]
Son las fieras a 3 [5.34]
Mi esposo asesta sus flechas a 11 [13.19]
Amystis Chamber Choir – Musicological Society/José Duce Chenoll
rec. El Puig de Santa Maria, Royal Monastery, Valencia, Spain, June and October 2012
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94781 [55.24 + 48.55]

Before this double CD arrived I had thought that Joan or Juan Cabanilles was a composer for the organ although An occasional ‘Tiento’ has been anthologised on various records and CDs over the years. He was born, bred and worked in the Valencia region and was organist of the cathedral until his death. During his latter days the medieval cathedral was being enlarged and altered as can be seen to this day and Cabanilles would have been responsible for the organ specification.
 
He had a good choir at his disposal and these ten works were composed for them. He could split the choir into what we could call an old style of ‘cori spezzati’ and was also able to could include soloists. He could employ therefore renaissance type polyphonic techniques and had at his disposal the burgeoning baroque emerging especially from Italy. These are all reflected in his vocal output.
 
Pieces in twelve parts include the solid and yet exciting Beatus Vir and an interesting Magnificat à 12. The opening seven or so lines remain in plainchant until the ‘deposuit potentes’ because the manuscript pages are missing. At that point the voices are divided, if my ears have not deceived me, into three choirs in a polyphonically ornate style. The musical material can also be quite word descriptive and expressive or as the notes translate full of ‘musical rhetoric’. It’s in a more baroque style but with a quite elaborate, polyphonic Gloria.
 
The highlight of the double album is Mortales que amais a un Dios immortal. In its opening moments and later in the last section there is a remarkably striking and masterly use of dissonance the like of which is rare indeed but which to my mind seems to be peculiarly Spanish. The same flavour comes across in the syncopated rhythms in the middle section of this marvellous motet. It really amounts to highly sophisticated church chamber music.
 
As I listened to the Mass a 6 I couldn’t help but think of Corelli or Vivaldi and their Concertos in which the homogeneous string group is divided into a tutti and a small concertante section. Throughout this mass there is a four-part tutti choir which joins in for sections of text that require a stronger texture, and also to emphasise cadence points or to repeat the text. The two solo voices - a soprano and a tenor - act as a concertante group. This especially happens in the impressive Gloria, a setting which is unusual in its slow, dignified and unpretentious approach. The Credo by contrast is more exciting and drives the long text forward dramatically.
 
CD 2 consists of four shorter motets and two villancicos all in Spanish.
 
El galán que ronda las calles is marked as a duet for two sopranos with a baroque guitar. It is quite delightful and Elias Casanova and Lucia Martin have pure and superbly blended vocal timbres. Atiende a mis uspiros is in four vocal parts. All of these pieces are divided ABA with a Refrain, a Versus, probably in a different key, for example a contrasting major as in Atiende a mis and possibly altering into triple time. The expressive Arroyuelo no huyas is also in four parts and has various changes of mood and tempo within its two sections. These pieces and Son las faras which is in three parts are each called rather curiously on the CD a Tone to the Blessed Sacrament.
 
Book-ending these pieces are the two, much longer, villancicos. These are normally Christmas pieces as in the case of the first Ah! De la región celeste. This also has a Refrain and Verse form and is in fifteen parts with three choirs; one of these is instrumental in which cornetto is prominent. The outer sections (Refrain) are livelier and more rhythmic with the middle (versus) more homophonic with its rising scales echoed across the three groups. The recording, made at a monastery church which has a lovely acoustic, some miles to the north of Valencia does not however quite solve the balance problems which obviously arise. With the addition of strumming guitars and percussion the last bars are suitably exhilarating.
 
Mi esposo asesta sus flechas seems to divide its eleven parts into two four-part choirs and three separated soloists; there is instrumental doubling throughout. This is a love song about the inescapable darts or arrows of Cupid but it alludes to the love of Jesus- the ‘esposo’ or husband. My Spanish is too rough to give any firm details but the CD tells us that it is a ‘Villancico to the Blessed Sacrament’.
 
The choir Amystis are new to me and consist of, if the photo in the booklet is correct, sixteen mostly young voices. They are joined by various instrumentalists from time to time on organ, theorbo, baroque guitar, violone, cornets, sackbut and dulcian. There sound is full-throated, fresh and well focused.
 
The problem, as you have probably now realised, is that although the texts are given in Latin and Spanish, no translations in any other language are offered. In the case of, say Mi esposo asesta sus flechas it would have been very helpful to have these. In addition the very brief essay by conductor Jose Duce Chenoll tells more about the transmission and discovery of Cabanilles works. It gives little direction as to what to listen out for or any possible dating.
 
That said, this is rare repertoire and may well appeal to those with an especial interest in unusual corners of the baroque. I should add that this CD is at bargain price.

Gary Higginson