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Luys de NARVAEZ (c.1500-c.1550)
Los Libros del Delphin
Xavier Diaz-Latorre (vilhuela)
rec. 2017, Saint Remi, Franc-Waret, Belgium

This is a disc of vilhuela music by one of the most fascinating, instinctive and versatile composers for the vilhuela, from the golden age of Spanish music resulting in a disc of much variety.

Narvaez hailed from the ancient capital of Valladolid where his music was published and he produced six books of music in tablature entitled ‘The books of the Dolphin’. He is described as ‘fish with great affinity for music’ (very curious, I know and I don’t really understand the allusion). So this disc presents us in its twenty-seven tracks with Narvaez’s complete vilhuela music.

You might have heard Alonso Mudarra (d. 1580) and Francesco Milano (d. 1543), both great viluhalists, lutenists and composers of the period, but Xavier Diaz-Latorre tells us how it was Narvaez who especially captivated him, inspired as he was by his teacher Hopkinson Smith.

The disc consists of variants on popular songs like Mille Regretz (Josquin) and mass movements also by Josquin such as on the Sanctus of the Missa d’Erculus dux Ferrarie composed c. 1487. There are thirteen ‘Fantasias’ and it seems contrapuntal exercises, as well as ‘Diferencias’ such as the two on the famous Guardame las vacas, which I suppose translates as ‘keep the cows safe for me’. The pieces are divided on the disc into the seven sections – the times of prayer – called the ‘canonical hours’, as devised by St. Benedict. These are: Matins, Prime, Laudes, Terce, Sext, Nones and Vespers with a final section given as ‘Completas’, which tidies up any pieces overlooked in the previous sections. Narvaez would, one imagines, have been familiar with such daily acts of worship as can be revealed by his use of plainchant and sacred polyphony.

The Fantasias are especially interesting. One which feels to be much in the major key is called in tono de consonancia, another, clearly more modal is, not surprisingly, based on tono sobre with the pattern ut re mi fa mi. There is also much virtuoso writing due to elaborate ornamentation, as in the diferencias de Conde Claros. Especially interesting are the Seis diferencias based on O gloriosa domina in different time signatures and in a variety of parts. I should think there is also a set of counterpoint-didactic exercises on a plainchant fragment Sacri Solemnis.

The editions used are very recent ones by Emilio Pujol whose slightly obscure comments are quoted in the booklet. Diaz-Laterre employs two vilhuela, both using gut strings: One a tenor by Carlos Gonzales from 2017, the other a bass from twenty years earlier by Patrick Hoopmans, used from track 15.

The CD comes in a cardboard casing with the booklet neatly inside. This has an essay by Diaz-Latorre, which includes quotes, presumably from the composer, from the original publication of 1538 and there is also a reproduction of its title page. The recording is close but atmospheric.

Gary Higginson

1. La canción del Emperador
Mille regres, del cuarto tono, canción de Josquin
2.Fantasía 1 del primer tono de g sol re ut
3.Fantasía 10 del quarto tono de g sol re ut

4.Fantasía 11 del quinto tono
5.Fantasía 2 del segundo tono
6.Tres diferencias de Guárdame las vacas, por otra parte

7.Sanctus & Osanna de la misa d’Ercules dux Ferrarie, de Josquin
8.Fantasía 7 del séptimo tono sobre ut re mi fa mi
9.Fantasía 5 del quinto tono de consonancia
10.Veinte y dos diferencias de Conde Claros

11.Seis diferencias del igno de Nuestra Señora, O gloriosa domina
Primera diferencia
Segunda diferencia, a tres
Tercera diferencia, a dúo
Quarta diferencia, a quatro de proporción
Quinta diferencia de dos tiples a quatro
Sexta diferencia, a tres
12.Fantasía 4 del quarto tono
13.Una canción del quinto tono, Gombert
14.Je veulx layser melancolie, del primer tono, Richaforte

15.Cum sancto espiritu, de la missa de la fuga, Josquin
16.Fantasía 3 del tercer tono
17.Quatro diferencias de Guárdame las vacas
18.Fantasía 8 del octavo tono

19. Sanctus & Osanna de la missa de faysan regres, Josquin
20.Fantasía 9 del primer tono
21.Fantasía 14 del primer tono

22.Fantasía 12 del quinto tono
23.Fantasía 13 del primer tono
24.Una baxa de contrapunto

25.Cinco contrapuntos de Sacri Solemnis
Primer contrapunto, a quatro
Segundo contrapunto, a tres
Tercero contrapunto
Quarto contrapunto, a dúo
Quinto contrapunto, a dúo
26.Fantasía 6 del sesto tono sobre fa ut mi re
27. Canción del primer tono

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