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Joan Bautista José CABANILLES (1644-1712)
Keyboard Music Volume 1
Tocata I de primero tono [2:22]
Pasacalles II de primero tono [5:05]
Tocata IV de quinto tono [2:36]
Tiento XII de falsas de 4° tono [4:33]
Tiento XXXI partido de mano derecha de 1° tono [6:47]
Tiento LXXXII lleno, por Bequadrado de quinto tono [8:06]
Tiento IX partido de mano derecha de 2° tono [7:29]
Tocata II de mano izquierda 5° tono [2:53]
Tiento LXIII de contras de 4° tono [10:56]
Tiento LV lleno, de 1° tono [5:33]
Tiento XIV partido de dos tiples, de cuarto tono [8:21]
Timothy Roberts (organ)
rec. Basilica of Sant Jaume, Vila-real, Castellón, Valencia, 5-7 April 2016.

The period from around 1650 to 1750 was very much the Golden Age of the Organ, with no less than four simultaneous yet unconnected national schools of organ music working up to, if not reaching, their respective zeniths. In England, composers from Purcell to John Stanley were writing their Voluntaries and greatly expanding the repertory of the organ in their own land. Sadly, their considerable achievements too often get overlooked by the very different musical results being created by their contemporaries in the northern German states, notably Buxtehude and J. S. Bach, who made the Chorale Prelude very much their calling card. Meanwhile the French organ was building its own distinctive and individual repertory with a whole phalanx of composers – among them Dandrieu and D’Aquin – whose musical calling card, as it were, was the Noël. And while all that gives organists with a passion for historical repertory plenty to chew on, there was the Spanish school which only now seems to be coming in for serious study from performing organist/scholars such as Timothy Roberts. If the Spanish organ school had its own musical calling card, it was the Tiento, and this disc offers no fewer than eight of them by Joan Cabanilles. Many of these pieces have never been committed to disc before, and several of them have been reconstructed for this recording by Roberts himself.

What are the obvious characteristics which distinguish Spanish organ music of the age from that of its English, German and French counterparts? The most obvious thing is its vitality and energy, which seems shot through with those fiery rhythmic gestures and dazzling displays of colour inseparably associated with Spanish dances. Secondly, there is the vivid, almost raucous sound of the Spanish organs of the period with their searing reeds, so different from their delicate English, robust German or coarse French ones. We experience that sound in all its glory on this CD for which Roberts has chosen an organ originally built in 1724 by Nicolás Salanova but virtually destroyed during the Spanish civil war. It was lovingly restored as recently as 2010 and makes a tremendous noise. The recording was made by Roberts himself, whose booklet notes are, in their detail, factual and informative content, not to mention their sheer readability, well worth the cost of the disc itself.

Perhaps the most astonishing thing we learn from those excellent booklet notes is that Cabanilles was, statistically, “the most prolific composer of organ music the world has ever seen” (not, it has to be stressed, Roberts’s own words, but those of the American Musicological Society). He is believed to have written over 2000 short liturgical pieces as well as more than 200 tientos and other substantial pieces for the instrument. If by describing itself as “Volume One” in a series devoted to Cabanilles’ Keyboard Music. Toccata are intent on recording his entire output, we are in for a very long ride indeed. After all, Cabanilles’ music has yet to be made available in modern print editions; a complete edition was begun in 1927 and by 2008 had reached volume nine (we are told three more volumes are in the pipeline).

Certainly the tiento provided Cabanilles with a genre in which he could indulge in great feats of originality and invention. The name translates as “essay”, and Roberts traces its origins back to Antonio de Cabezón (1510-1566), describing it as “a relatively serious contrapuntal piece usually in four voices”. However, Cabanilles has expanded the genre and in these eight tientos we have a range of characters which, while some might be said to have a serious tinge, have in common an overriding exuberance. They are all dance-infused toccata-like pieces which Roberts identifies as falling into five distinct categories, and such is the eloquence of his written descriptions, that it is easy to identify each category from these very forthright performances.

Sometimes the free-flowing, improvisatory sense of line (best demonstrated, possibly, in the Tiento No.9 (one of Roberts’s own reconstructions) tends to get carried away with its own rhetoric, and for the uninitiated, the music might seem to wander so freely that it develops a kind of directionless journeying. But generally one can simply sit back and relish the ravishing organ sound and a musical idiom which we hear all too rarely either live or on disc. One thing is certain, Timothy Roberts’s obvious labour of love in presenting this music in all its glory has not been wasted; this is a truly magnificent recording.

Marc Rochester

Previous review: Brian Wilson (Recording of the Month)



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