Joseph de TORRES (c1670-1738)
El libro que contiene onze partidos
Obra [4:22]
Partido de 2º tono [7:30]
Partido de 6º tono [2:56]
Partido de primo alto [5:12]
Fuga [4:43]
Obra de 7º tono [5:00]
Partido de 1º tono bajo [5:37]
Obra de mano derecha de medio registro [6:49]
Obra de lleno de 7º tono [3:50]
Batalla [8:49]
Valentin Gascon Villa (organ)
rec. 26-27 May 2013, Notre Dame de l'Assomption, Villeneuve-sur Yonne, France. DDD
SOLSTICE SOCD314 [54:55]

Before the 19th century there was no real 'national identity' in music. The whole concept of 'nation' hardly existed. There was much mutual influence between countries and regions across Europe, even though they all had some specific features of their own. There is probably just one part of music life where one can speak about a national identity, and that is in relation to organ building. It is true that some German organ builders were interested in French organs and included some of those features in their own instruments. However, that was far away from copying: those organs remained firmly German in character. It is one of the reasons that it is very hard to perform French organ music on German instruments. Likewise the performance of organ music by composers from the Iberian peninsula on organs in France or Germany is nearly impossible. That greatly contributes to the repertoire being largely unknown outside Spain and Portugal.

Very few people will ever have heard of Josep de Torres y Martínez Bravo. He was born in Madrid around 1670 and was associated with the royal chapel from an early age. Between his seventh and tenth years he attended the royal boys' school and was appointed organist of the royal chapel in 1689. In between he had probably been a pupil of two nephews of the famous organist Pablo Bruna. He was taught in composition by Cristóbal de Galán, director of music of the royal chapel. In 1708 Sebastian Durón had to leave his post as maestro de capilla and Torres was appointed as his temporary replacement; in 1718 he was officially appointed to that position. In 1734 a fire in the old Alcázar of Madrid destroyed the music of the chapel, and it was Torres' task to compose music for the liturgy to replace the lost scores. His vocal music shows the Italian influence which disseminated across Spain.

Torres was also active as a publisher, and in this capacity he printed a number of important treatises, including one of his own. It was the first which explained the basso continuo in Spanish. A plan to publish a translation of the well-known dictionary of Sébastien de Brossard was never fully realised, probably because of Torres' ill health.

This disc includes the complete organ music from his pen. It has been preserved in a manuscript with the title Libro que contiene onze partidos del M[aestr]o D[o]n Joseph de Torres which was found in Mexico and is now preserved in the Centro Nacional de Investigación, Documentación, e Información Musical in Mexico City. The fact that it was found in Mexico once led to the assumption that the composer was Joseph de Torres y Vergara (1661-1727), a Mexican composer and canon cantor of the cathedral of Mexico City. The latest research has confirmed that he is definitely not the composer. On the other hand, many compositions by Torres y Martínez Bravo have been found in the New World and as he was educated as an organist he seems the most likely candidate for the authorship.

The manuscript has been severely damaged which means that the last page of one piece (Partido de 6° tono) is missing and one piece has been completely lost. It has also been discovered that the manuscript includes many copying errors. It is the task of modern interpreters to deal with this situation which is quite precarious. The view on what are probably copying errors partly depends on what we think is the composer's style and those thoughts are not necessarily correct. Valentin Gascon Villa has made his own transcription of these pieces. He is a Mexican keyboard player who is active in several roles, among them as harpsichordist and organist.

Spanish composers made full use of the features of Spanish organs. One of the most prominent of those - where the Spanish organs are most different from instruments elsewhere in Europe - is the horizontal placement of reed stops, such as clarins, trompetas reales, dulzainas and cornetas. These come especially handy in the Batalla, a very popular genre at the time which is inextricably connected to the type of organs built in Spain. It is an example of a piece which can hardly be performed on a non-Spanish organ. However, to my surprise Gascon Villa decided to perform this music on a French baroque organ. Reed stops are a prominent part of such organs but they are quite different from those in Spanish organs. The same music was also recorded by Bruno Forst on a Spanish organ (Brilliant Classics, 2014). He makes much more of it, partly thanks to the instrument. The differences in other pieces are not always that spectacular but are mostly quite evident nonetheless. The reed stops in the French organ Gascon Villa plays are mostly sweeter and less penetrating than those in Forst's instrument.

There is also a difference in interpretation. Gascon Villa often chooses a more intimate approach which seems perfectly legitimate but sometimes his playing is a bit straightforward … now and then even dull. In the booklet he calls the incomplete Partido de 6° tono a duet which suggests that the two voices are of equal importance. However, the left hand is barely audible.

Another specific feature of Spanish organs is the division of every manual into two halves with different registers. This was a tradition inspired by the fact that most organs in the 16th and 17th centuries had only one manual. This division was a way to allow an organist to play a 'solo' part - for instance the cantus firmus - with (mostly) the right hand, whereas the other hand could play an accompaniment. An example on this disc is Obra de mano derecha de medio registro. However, French organs did not have such 'split' manuals; Gascon Villa has to use two manuals instead.

If this was the only recording available I would probably urge anyone interested in Spanish organ music to investigate it, because of the quality of the repertoire. However, this disc suffers from the use of a less appropriate organ. As Bruno Forst's interpretation is also superior to Gascon Villa's I can only advise to purchase the Forst's disc. The latter may be of interest to those who would like to hear a largely different interpretation which is partly inspired - or enforced - by the organ.

Johan van Veen

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