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José de TORRES (c. 1670-1738)
Amoroso señor
Reloj que señala [18:29]
Sosiega tu quebranto [12:34]
Amoroso Señor [13:42]
Murió por el pecado [13:19]
Aurora Peña (soprano), Concerto 1700 / Daniel Pinteño
rec. 2018, Iglesia de San Sebastián, Cercedilla, Spain
Texts and translations included
1700 CLASSICS 170001 [58:04]

In Spain, from the 16th century onwards, many villancicos, sacred songs and cantatas were written al Santísimo, for the Blessed Sacrament, a devotion that was particularly important and was part of celebrations such as the Corpus Christi processions. They were performed during the liturgy, for instance at the Royal Chapel, but also during siestas, a kind of sacred concerts taking place at the afternoon of solemn days, in which the Blessed Sacrament was left uncovered from the morning mass on (Raúl Angulo Díaz in the booklet).

This disc includes four cantatas for the Blessed Sacrament by José de Torres y Martínez Bravo, to use his full name. He was born in Madrid around 1670 and was associated with the royal chapel from an early age. Between his seventh and tenth year he attended the royal boys' school and was appointed organist of the royal chapel in 1689. In between he was taught in composition by Cristóbal de Galán, director of music of the royal chapel. In 1708 Sebastian Durón had to leave his post as maestro de capilla and Torres was appointed his temporary replacement; in 1718 he became officially Durón's successor. In 1734 a fire in the old Alcázar of Madrid destroyed the music of the chapel, and it was Torres' task to compose music for the liturgy to replace the lost scores. He was not only active as a composer of sacred music, both for liturgical and extra-liturgical purposes, but also as a publisher, and in this capacity he printed a number of important treatises, including one of his own. The latter was the first which explained the basso continuo in Spanish. A plan to publish a translation of the well-known dictionary of Sébastien de Brossard was never fully realised, probably because of Torres' ill health.

Torres' compositions show the influence of the Italian style of his time, and in his later compositions, especially the style connected to Naples. The four cantatas included here are similar in structure to the Italian secular cantata. The first two comprise two arias, embracing a recitative. The other two consist of two pairs of recitative and aria. The instrumental scoring is largely the same: two violins and basso continuo. In two cantatas they are joined by an oboe.

The texts also bear witness to the influence of the Italian cantata. The images in such cantatas serve here as allegories for the various features of the connection between Christ and the faithful. The first cantata is Reloj que señala, whose first aria opens with the words: "Clock that indicates the happy hour that equals me to the angel". This aria is dominated by repeated notes in the vocal and the instrumental parts, depicting the ticking of a clock. The last aria includes sighing figures, as it refers to the Passion of Christ, which - according to Catholic doctrine - is repeated in the Sacrament.

Sosiega tu quebranto uses a different image: that of a ship at sea. In Italian cantatas this is often used as an allegory of the insecurity of human life and of the trials and tribulations of love in particular. Here it is applied to the life of the believer: "Calm your afflictions, beautiful ship, as you are already at the shore of the holy asylum of our salvation". The swaying figures in the strings refer to the waves at sea. The second aria mentions "angry winds" that cause peril and symbolize the combat against Christ's power. In this aria the first violin has a solo part, which includes busy figurations, depicting that struggle.

Amoroso Señor, which has given this disc its title, opens with a recitative: "Loving omnipotent Lord, shoot not your angry spear at me". The first aria is about the Lord's love, which finds its expression in the music in which the oboe plays a prominent role. The second recitative refers to "angelical trumpets", and in the last aria, the parts of soprano and oboe include figures associated with the playing of the trumpet. The manuscript suggests the latter as an alternative to the oboe, which is ignored here.

Lastly, Murió por el pecado; this cantata was originally part of a villancico for the matins of Christmas and to be performed on 24 December 1728. It juxtaposes night and day, associated with sin and salvation respectively. Whereas the first aria is rather restrained, the second is energetic, partly expressed through syncopations.

Hardly any music by Torres is available on disc, which is rather surprising, considering the fine quality of these cantatas. The fact that many of his cantatas have been found in Mexico and Guatemala attests to the status of Torres as a composer. His oeuvre is pretty large, and it is to be hoped that more of it will appear on disc. This recording is a very good start. I have very much enjoyed these cantatas, and also the way they are performed. Aurora Peña has a lovely voice, and sings these pieces with great commitment and stylistic understanding. I like the way she treats the recitatives, where the text is in the centre of attention. Only sometimes I found the cadenzas a little exaggerated in tessitura, and when she sings top notes forte, a bit too much vibrato creeps in. The playing of Concerto 1700 is excellent; the effects the composer included in the instrumental part, come off to the full.

These passionate performances are the best possible way to become acquainted with the oevre of José de Torres.

Johan van Veen

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