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Juan ESQUIVEL (c 1560-before 1630)
Missa Hortus Conclusus and other works
De Profundis/Eamonn Dougan
rec. 2019, St George’s Church, Chesterton, Cambridge
Texts and translations included
HYPERION CDA68326 [69:29]

We can be grateful once more to the ever curious ‘Time Team’ at Hyperion, and to the superb all-male choir De Profundis for unearthing the music of yet another neglected figure from Spain’s ‘Golden Age’; as far as I can establish this is the first disc devoted in its entirety to the work of Juan Esquivel. At the outset of his informative note Bruno Turner makes the case that if Victoria, de Morales and Guerrero should be regarded as the first rank among the composers working there at that time, Esquivel should be considered among those next in line for rediscovery, along with Alonso Lobo and Sebastián de Vivanco. In their last outing for the label, De Profundis served up a winning portrait of de Vivanco - review– since the arrival of that issue Eamonn Dougan has taken over directing duties from Robert Hollingworth. In his own MWI review of this new disc my colleague Brian Wilson referred to the scarcity of recordings of anything by Esquivel; one example that seemingly went under his radar was the inclusion of the Gloria and Credo from the Mass Ave virgo sanctissima on O Virgo Benedicta, an anthology of similar repertoire performed by Rory McCleery’s Marian Consort on Delphian back in 2011- review.

De Profundis make a wholesome, virile sound in the assertive antiphon Regina caeli, a confident, characteristically Iberian piece – towards its conclusion one becomes aware of the distinctive, peppery sound of the bajón, a rather earthy, primitive bassoon which fills out the textures in the bass, although one really has to focus to hear it through the dense cloud of choral texture. De Caballos’ lush four-part motet Hortus Conclusus (‘enclosed garden’) is the source for Esquivel’s eponymous parody mass and precedes it here. Its text is one of barely reined-in eroticism, and the choir’s clear projection of the words is not remotely compromised by the mellifluous tone they produce here. As Bruno Turner suggests, the piece occupies the borderlands between the sacred and the secular and seems to be an unlikely model for Esquivel’s mass but he also points out that the loaded word ‘parody’ is perhaps not strictly appropriate in this case – Esquivel has clearly gone to considerable lengths to incorporate de Caballos’ raw materials throughout the mass, an act of homage which is neatly characterised by the allusion of its title. This ‘absorption’ (as Turner describes it) is immediately obvious from the outset of the Kyrie despite its more solemn tone. For the listener the bajón is a more potent element here, its flavours most pleasing once one gets used to it. As for De Profundis, their fulsome, luxurious sound certainly fills the space – the acoustic of St George’s Church on the outskirts of Cambridge seems tailored for their distinctive sonic profile, but never so cloying as to prevent the altos carrying the soaring lines at the outset of the Gloria, for example. The Mass ordinary is interspersed with a couple of brief, intricately wrought motets; the first, Veni Domine is especially fine. The Credo is in constant flux, the singers more than equal to the challenges presented by its infinite contrapuntal variety. At eight minutes it‘s the longest panel in what is a concise mass (It lasts 23 minutes), but to my ears it stands out as the most stimulating. The brief Deo Gracias which concludes the dismissal ends the ritual with a flourish. It is difficult to imagine this mass receiving more refined advocacy; De Profundis invest it with a quality it perhaps does not possess; at the end of the day Esquivel is not Victoria.

The seven remaining motets which feature on this disc were designed for later in the day, five for Vespers and two for Compline. There is a splendid Magnificat quinti toni which alternates ornate and attractive six-part harmony in the odd verses with chant in the even ones. It moves from controlled ecstasy to cool austerity and back again. The disc is rounded off by the eight-part Marian antiphon Salve Regina. Its harmonic shifts are subtle and appropriately nocturnal; the chant which was omitted from the published version has been restored in this sepulchral account.

It’s never a chore to hear a superbly drilled and finely balanced choir sing their hearts out in Renaissance Spanish repertoire and De Profundis certainly tick both those boxes. The only snag for me is that whilst Juan Esquivel’s settings are fastidiously crafted and unfailingly attractive, to my ears his music on the whole lacks the distinctiveness of that produced by the greatest of his contemporaries. I found De Profundis’ earlier disc of Sebastián de Vivanco more consistently engaging than the present issue but other lovers of this repertoire may well disagree.

Richard Hanlon

Previous review: Brian Wilson ~ Gary Higginson
Juan ESQUIVEL (c.1560-before 1630)
Regina cćli [2:15]
Rodrigo de CEBALLOS (c.1530-1581)
Hortus conclusus [4:36]
Missa Hortus conclusus; Kyrie and Gloria [2:06 + 5:06]
Veni Domine [1:52]
Missa Hortus conclususCredo [8:22]
Ego sum panis vitis [2:34]
Missa Hortus conclususSanctus and Agnus Dei [3:13 + 2:53]
Ite missa est – Deo gracias [1:05]
Alma redemptoris mater [4:39]
Magnificat quinti toni [8:38]
Ave Regina cćlorum [3:16]
Nunc dimittis [3:35]
Sancta Maria [3:44]
Te lucis ante terminum [3:15]
Salve Regina [8:10]  

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