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Francisco (Francesc) VALLS (c.1671-1747)
Missa Regalis (1740, ed. Simon Heighes)
I. Kyrie [5:13]
II. Gloria [7:55]
Francisco Corrêa de AROUXO (ARAUXO) (c.1583-c.1654)
Tiento y discurso de segundo tono (FO2, from Facultad orgánica, 1626) [5:55]
Francisco VALLS
Missa Regalis, III. Credo [9:38]
Juan Bautista José CABINILLES (CABANILLES) (1644-1714)
Tiento de falsas primer tono (WSC 161, in M729 Música per a orgue, late 1600s) [2:50]
Francisco VALLS
Missa Regalis, IV. Sanctus [1:57]
Francisco Corrêa de AROUXO
Tiento de medio registro de tiple de séptimo tono (FO29, from Facultad orgánica, 1626) [4:52]
Francisco VALLS
Missa Regalis, V. Agnus Dei [2:24]
The Choir of Keble College, Oxford
Joseph Crouch (bass violin), Inga Klaucke (dulcian) Edward Higginbottom (organ continuo)
Academy of Ancient Music/Matthew Martin (organ solo)
rec. Missa Regalis: Chapel of Keble College, Oxford, 6 December 2018; Organ works: Chapel of St. John’s College, Oxford, 9 July 2019. DDD.
Texts and translations included.
Organ specification included.
AAM RECORDS AAM008 [40:47]

First a word of explanation about the alternative spellings of the names of all three composers, about which the AAM booklet itself is not consistent. Then, as now, Spaniards needed to be bi-lingual in high Castilian and their own language or dialect, in the case of Catalan somewhere between Castilian and Provençal. Valls is more usually given the first name Francesc, while the other two composers are generally known by the names which I have given in brackets.  Just to complicate matters, Arauxo is sometimes spelled Araujo; there's another composer called Juan de Araujo (1664-1712) and a Pedro de Araujo (fl. 1662-1720).

This is the only available recording of the Missa Regalis, or Royal Mass, by the Catalan composer Francesc Valls, so I suppose that compensates for the very mean playing time. I’m sure that more, perhaps hitherto neglected, music could have been found to give us at least a respectable hour of playing time on this full-price recording. We could, for example, have been given more from Arauxo’s 1626 collection: a Tactus recording on the organ of San Martino, Bologna, for example, contains the tiento included here and tres glosas from that set (TC550003).

There seems to be something of a tradition of giving short value on CDs of Valls’ music: the London Oratory Choir and the Thames Chamber Orchestra, conducted by John Hoban, offer just his Missa Scala Aretina on a CRD CD (CRD3371). At least, CRD can offer in their defence that this is a reissue of an LP from 1980.

A recording on the Lauda label of that Mass is much better value at 74 minutes, with Psalm settings and Motets (LAU014 – review). Another recording, from Jordi Savall on his own Alia Vox label, provides the Missa Scala Aretina, a Desmarest Mass for two choirs and shorter pieces on a 2-SACD set (AVSA9924 – Spring 2018/1). Both contain very good performances and the Alia Vox is very good value, around £13.50 for the two discs or around £7.50 for a lossless download, with pdf booklet.

Can an Oxford or Cambridge college choir capture the raw energy of Iberian choral music of the late Golden Age? In one important respect, they can even excel; until recently Spanish choirs were not noted for accuracy of pitch. I have some recordings made by the famous Choir of Montserrat Abbey to which I can hardly bear to listen (EMI and BASF CDs, under licence from Deutsche Harmonia Mundi and now, thankfully, unavailable). If you wished to be kind, you might describe the singing as ‘forthright’.

With Savall’s partners, La Capella Reial de Catlunya and le Concert des Nations, you have an authentically Iberian sound and period instruments, but no split and missed notes – just the opposite. The London Oratory Choir, too, would appear to offer the right credentials, accustomed as they are to singing music for the Latin rite in a manner different from the Anglican tradition. Keble, of course, is the bastion of Anglicanism, albeit of an Anglo-Catholic bells-and-smells variety and with undergrad accommodation which used, as I recall, to offer almost monastic simplicity.

There’s no trace of Anglican ‘hoot’ or understatement from the Keble choir on this recording. In recent years they have been working with Edward Higginbottom, after his retirement at the helm of New College choir. One such offers very different music from that of Valls: Ceremonial Oxford contains music for the Georgian university by the neglected William Hayes. Like the new Valls, Keble choirmaster Matthew Martin directs, but Higginbottom also contributes to the success of this recording as one of the organists (CRD CRD3534 – review review).

In Spring 2018/1 I thought that recording revelatory and I’m equally enthusiastic about the new Valls. Keble has a mixed-voice choir, so those who insist on boys’ voices will be disappointed. I certainly was not put off in the least, especially when I recall what the boys of Montserrat sound like on those Deutsche Harmonia Mundi recordings – even worse than the men. Good as the CRD recording of Hayes is, I’m pleased to see that this is to be the first release in a new partnership with AAM. The Academy themselves are on as fine form as in their earlier recordings under Chrstopher Hogwood and Richard Egarr.

Listening with an innocent ear, you might be hard pressed to date this Mass. At times it sounds like something from the late baroque era, at others it might almost be by Valls’ contemporary Haydn. Less unconventional than the earlier Missa Scala Aretina, it’s still very well worth getting to know. It’s unlikely to receive another recording any time soon – presumably the edition, by Oxford scholar Simon Heighes, from a manuscript of a work apparently in progress, is copyright and, in any case, this performance is good enough to serve as a benchmark.

The three organ pieces which punctuate the sections of the Mass date from a slightly earlier time, but are perfectly in keeping with the older aspects of Valls’ style. They were recorded separately in St John’s College, where the organ, a full spec of which is included in the booklet, is ideal for the music. It doesn’t sound out of tune, as some of the Spanish examples still do, though matters have been improving in that regard. Matthew Martin resists any temptation to choose heavier registration or greater use of the pedals than would have been possible with the simple set-up of the Iberian organs of the time.  By a miracle of engineering, the organ is convincingly placed within the acoustics of Keble chapel.

The booklet is enormously informative. Think of the kind of notes that Hyperion and, even more, Toccata offer and this is as good as either. It has all that you are ever likely to want to know about the kind of keyboard work known as a tiento and the design and disposition of the early Iberian organ. It’s also generous illustrated, not with the vacuous ‘celeb’ shots that DG have often give us recently, but with a picture of a typical organ of the period, showing how limited the pedals are, manuscripts of the music and, of course, the Keble choir and the Academy of Ancient Music.

With very good recording to match the high quality of performance and documentation, reservations about short playing time can be set aside. A very worthwhile discovery. (NB: available only as a download or streamed from Naxos Music Library until 5 June 2020.)

Brian Wilson



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