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El aire se serena - Music from the Courts and Cathedrals of 16th-Century Spain
Seldom Sene (Stephanie Brandt, Ruth Dyson, Eva Gemeinhardt, Hester Groenleer, María Martínez Ayerza, recorders)
rec. 24-27 August 2015, Schuilkerk De Hoop, Diemen, Netherlands DDD

Very little original music for instrumental ensemble was written before the baroque period. Ensembles either supported singers in sacred or secular music or played instrumental adaptations of vocal music. The two main categories of independent instrumental music were dances and consort music. The latter genre was especially popular in England and therefore it is not surprising that most recordings of consort music comprise English music of the 16th and early 17th centuries. Such music was originally intended for a consort of viols but could also be played on recorders or violins.

On the present disc the ensemble Seldom Sene follows a different path. It presents a programme of (mostly) music by Spanish composers of the 16th century. The dances are the only genre intended for instrumental performance. The rest of the programme is devoted to music for a single instrument - keyboard, a plucked instrument, harp - or sacred and secular vocal music.

It opens and closes with Josquin;s motet Inviolata, integra et casta es Maria. In 1578 Hernando de Cabezón published a collection of music for keyboard, harp or vihuela by his father Antonio, Obras de musica. A number of pieces in this collection are arrangements of some of the most famous vocal works of the renaissance, among them this motet by Josquin. The figurations in this piece - typical for keyboard and plucked instruments - come off well here. That is not self-evident; in some cases a performance with different instruments may be less successful. It is interesting to hear also the original version by Josquin which shows how much Cabezón changed it. His arrangement results in a piece which can stand on its own. Not only Josquin's motet but also the madrigal Dormend'un giorno a Baia by Philippe Verdelot is included in two versions: the original and the arrangement by Cabezón. His collection is one of the main sources of such arrangements. It also includes Triste de par, after the chanson Triste départ by Nicolas Gombert. It is played on the lower recorders which suits the sad content of this piece. Hernando also included some pieces from his own pen in Obras de musica, such as Susana un jur, an arrangement of Lassus' famous chanson Susanne un jour.

Verdelot's madrigal also figures in the sacred part of the programme: from Francesco Guerrero's Missa Dormendo un giorno the third Agnus Dei is taken. It is one of the pieces which is performed here as it was written down by the composer. In the motet Trahe me post te the two upper parts are a canon, illustrating the meaning of the text: "Draw me after you, and let us run to the fragrance of your ointments", a text from the Song of Songs. Guerrero is one of the main composers of sacred music from the Spanish renaissance who are represented in this part of the programme. The other two are Cristóbal de Morales and Tomás Luis de Victoria. Morales's motet Lamentabatur Iacob is an impressive and incisive piece which receives an outstanding and compelling performance. Victoria's Ascendens Christus in altum is a motet for Ascension Day in which the text is illustrated by ascending figures in the various voices. A lesser known composer is Francesco de Peñalosa. He is also the earliest composer in the programme which explains why his motet Adoro te, Domine is for three voices. Such scoring was common in his time but went out of fashion later on. It is played on lower instruments, reflecting the original scoring - probably for alto, tenor and bass.

The villancico represents a specific Spanish genre of vocal music, comprising several stanzas (coplas) framed by a refrain (estribillo). Originally a villancico was a secular piece but in the second half of the 16th century this form was increasingly used for sacred subjects. Lágrimas de mi consuelo by Juan Vásquez is an example of a villancico with secular content; the composer was especially famous for his secular music. Many sacred villancicos were intended for Christmastide. The anonymous Riu, riu, chiu is a rather well-known specimen of this genre. Also for Christmastide and stylistically close to these pieces is ¡Hombres, victoria, victoria! by Guerrero, from a collection of songs and villanescas of 1589. It seems that these pieces were originally conceived as secular works and that for this edition Guerrero replaced the secular texts with sacred ones.

The last category in the programme concerns dance music, the most common genre of original instrumental music in the renaissance. Dances are often not fully written out: apart from some lines it is left to the performers to bring them to life. In La Spagna, a bassadanza by Francesco da Milano, one of the players creates a sound which is probably intended to imitate percussion.

This disc is a model of creative and thoughtful programming. It was a good idea to focus on Spanish music: a large part of this repertoire is little-known and it is certainly seldom played by recorder consorts. The ensemble has won several competions, for instance the Van Wassenaer Competition, part of the Festival Early Music Utrecht. That is easily understandable. The playing is of the highest order: immaculate intonation and perfect ensemble are two of the main requirements for a good performance of consort music. The fact that a large part of the programme is of vocal origin comes off well: one of the features of these performances is the vocalised style of playing, with the delicate but clearly audible dynamic shading which is a feature of renaissance vocal music. In their phrasing and articulation the players also observe the vocal origin of the music.

Such a large battery of recorders is not often used in a recording of consort music: the list in the booklet mentions 33 different instruments, from sopranino to sub-contrabass. This can be explained by the fact that a large part of the programme was conceived for voices, which have a wider tessitura than recorders. The booklet not only lists all the recorders but also indicates which of them are used in which piece. Exemplary.

Most of this programme I had heard before in a live performance. I greatly enjoyed the concert and listening again to this ensemble on disc was a very nice experience. Lovers of the recorder should not hesitate: this is a disc to treasure.

Johan van Veen

Antonio DE CABEZÓN (c1510-1566)
Inviolata. Jusquin [3:54]
Francisco GUERRERO (1528-1599)
Missa Dormendo un giorno:
Agnus Dei III [3:44]
Durmendo un jorno. Verdelot [3:05]
Philippe VERDELOT (c1480/85-c1530/32)
Dormend'un giorno a Baia [2:33]
Cristóbal DE MORALES (c1500-1553)
Lamentabatur Iacob [9:31]
Tomás Luis DE VICTORIA (1548-1611)
Ascendens Christus in altum [4:56]
Triste de par. Gombert [3:45]
Juan VÁSQUEZ (c1500-c1560)
Lágrimas de mi consuelo [2:40]
Francisco DE LA TORRE (fl 1483-1504)
[Danza] alta [1:05]
Fabritio CAROSO (c1527/35-after 1605)
Amor mio, balletto [1:30]
Francesco DA MILANO (1497-1543)
La Spagna, bassadanza [1:32]
Alonso LOBO (1555-1617)
Ave Regina coelorum [3:19]
Francisco DE PEÑALOSO (c1470-1528)
Adoro te, Domine [2:49]
Francisco GUERRERO
Missa pro defunctis:
Lux aeterna [3:23]
Hernando DE CABEZÓN (1541-1602)
Susana un jur. Glossada de Hernando de Cabeçon [3:20]
Riu, riu, chiu [1:37]
Francisco GUERRERO
Trahe me post te, Virgo Maria [5:34]
¡Hombres, victoria, victoria! [3:30]
JOSQUIN DESPREZ (c1450/55-1521)
Inviolata, integra et casta es, Maria [5:50]



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