Spanish Secular Cantatas Brilliant 96824

Spanish Secular Cantatas
Emanuele Rincón d’Astorga (1680-1775)
Filis, que abrigas
Respirad, mas sea quedito
Sean, Filis, de mi llanto
Juan de Serqueira (c1655-c1726)
Oh, corazón amante
José de Torres y Martínez Bravo (c1670-1738)
La picarilla más bella
Por el Tenaro monte
Cristina Bayón Álvarez (soprano), Noelia Reverte Reche (viola da gamba), Diego Leverić (archlute), Federico Del Sordo (harpsichord)
rec. 2022, Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music, Rome
No texts included
Reviewed as a stereo 16/44 download with pdf booklet from Naxos
Brilliant Classics 96824 [59]

Spanish music took a place of its own in the European landscape of the 17th century. The music for the stage differed from Italian opera, which conquered most of Europe. In secular chamber music the tonos humanos were different from the genre of the cantata that was developing in Italy, and was going to be the main form of musical entertainment among the higher echelons of society. It was towards the end of the 17th century that the Italian style started to influence Spanish music. The present disc offers specimens of cantatas that are not unlike those written in Italy, although in their form some are a kind of compromise between the Italian style and Spanish tradition.

The programme opens with three cantatas, which are entirely Italian in style. They are from the pen of Emanuele Rincón d’Astorga, who has become almost exclusively known for his setting of the Stabat mater. His family was of Spanish descent, but had settled in Sicily in the early 17th century, first in Augusta, and then, after it was destroyed by an earthquake, in Palermo. When Emanuele’s father attempted to murder his wife, the family was banished from Palermo. The father lost his civil and political rights, and on 21 June 1694 his title and lands passed to his son Francesco, Emanuele’s elder brother. After the turn of the century, Emanuele decided to leave Sicily. The reasons are not entirely clear. Federico Del Sordo, in his liner-notes, writes that these were not, as has been suggested, disagreements among the family, but “his decision to join the Austrian enlistment notice to participate in the War of the Spanish Succession (1707). The viceroy of Sicily – the Marquis de los Balbases – discovered the political position of Rincón d’Astorga, proceeded to expropriate all his possessions in Sicily, forcing the nobleman to leave the Italian region.” He travelled across Europe, visiting Madrid, Lisbon, Barcelona and Vienna in the process. In 1714 the War of the Spanish Succession ended with the victory of the Habsburgs, and as the political situation had changed drastically, d’Astorga returned to Palermo and regained the possession of all the properties that had been taken away from him.

His travels contributed to his musical development; in Portugal he met Domenico Scarlatti. He composed several operas, which all have been lost, except fragments from Dafni. The largest part of his extant oeuvre consists of secular cantatas. Most of them have been preserved in manuscript, but twelve were printed in Lisbon in 1726. From this collection the three cantatas on this disc are taken. The title betrays d’Astorga’s Spanish descent: Cantadas humanos a solo. The word humanos refers to the Spanish song of the 17th century, known as tono humano, as mentioned above. However, the form is entirely Italian. All three cantatas consist of a sequence of recitatives and arias, comparable with the cantatas written by Alessandro Scarlatti, who laid down the basic form of the genre. The subject matter of these cantatas is love and brings us to the world of Arcadia, the ideal of the aristocracy of the time. It is notable that the cantatas exist in versions with an Italian and with a Spanish text; as the rhythmic structure of the melody had to be preserved, the different versions are more than mere translations. Unfortunately, that is all there is to say about these pieces, as the booklet does not include the lyrics.

The next composer in the programme is Juan de Serquiera, who was of Portuguese descent; according to New Grove he played the harp and the guitar. For most of his life he worked in Madrid and was especially involved in the musical theatre: he directed performances of comedies and court plays and also composed music for theatrical pieces. Until recently, only the vocal part of the cantata Oh corazón amante was known, but recently the accompaniment has been discovered, in the form of a tablature for a plucked instrument. For this performance it has been turned into a basso continuo. Given that Serquiera apparently played the guitar, one may wonder whether the cantata was meant to be performed with guitar accompaniment.

The last composer is José de Torres y Martínez Bravo. 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.

The secular part of Torres’s oeuvre is rather small, consisting mainly of cantatas for solo voice and basso continuo; in some of them additional instruments, such as violin(s) or harp are needed. They are entirely written in the Italian style; only in La picarilla más bella the description of two sections as copla points to Spanish tradition, as this was a fixed part of tonos humanos. Torres uses the form freely, as in particular this cantata shows. It opens with a copla, which is followed by an aria, a recitative and another aria. Then we get a second copla, followed by an airoso, a recitative and two arias. Its content is also different from the standard: “The verses, in fact, highlight the contempt for love on the part of a woman who prefers freedom of spirit to the suffering caused by sentimental passion.” (booklet) Por el Tenaro monte is more conventional in content and form, as it “describes the lament of a young man for the refusal of the woman being courted” and comprises three pairs of recitative and aria.

A few years ago I reviewed a disc with four cantatas by Torres, which I very much appreciated ( The positive impressions of those pieces are confirmed here. Torres is a composer, who deserves the attention he has been given in recent years. I also would like to mention a recording of his complete organ works (Bruno Forst; Brilliant Classics, 2014). In the case of d’Astorga there is still a lot of work to do, and the three cantatas included here suggest that the exploration of his cantata output is well worth the effort.

The three composers on this disc take advantage of excellent performances by Cristina Bayón Álvarez, who has a lovely voice, and delivers stylish performances. She treats the recitatives with the necessary rhythmic freedom and adds ornamentation in the style of the time. She does not exaggerate; actually, I think she is a little too economical in this department. She receives perfect support from Noelia Reverte Reche, Diego Leverić and Federico Del Sordo. It is a shame that the lyrics are not available, but it should not prevent anyone from enjoying both the music and the performances.

Johan van Veen

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