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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
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
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.
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 –
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.)
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