Antonio Rodríguez de Hita (1722-1787)
Obra vocal en latín
La Grande Chapelle/Albert Recasens
rec. 2022, Real Monasterio de San Jerónimo, Granada, Spain
Texts and translations included
Reviewed as a stereo 24/96 download
Lauda LAU024 
The main genre of theatrical music in 17th-century Spain was the zarzuela. Juan Hidalgo was one of the most prominent composers of such works, mostly based on texts by Pedro Calderón de la Barca. In the course of the 18th century, the zarzuela lost some of its character under the influence of Italian opera. The popularity of the latter was such that the opera buffa became the main genre performed at theatres in Madrid in the mid-18th century. It was Antonio Rodríguez de Hita who was responsible for a true revival of the traditional zarzuela with his Briseida, performed in 1768. That same year he produced another work of this kind, but as it was based on folklore, it was derived from the models of Calderón de la Barca. This revival of the zarzuela brought de Hita quite some fame, but it has overshadowed the remaining parts of his oeuvre which are much more sizeable. Only twelve of Hita’s theatrical works have been preserved, whereas the number of sacred works, either in Latin or in Spanish, constitutes the main part of his output. With the present disc Albert Recasens attempts to correct the picture of the composer.
Hita was born in Valverde de Alcalá and attended the choir school of the prebendary church of Alcalá de Henares, where he became maestro de capilla at the age of 16. In 1744 he became maestro de capilla of Palencia Cathedral; three years later he was ordained to the priesthood. In Palencia he wrote a cycle of 75 short pieces for up to five wind instruments, according to tonality and mode, as well as sacred Latin works and villancicos. In 1757 he wrote a treatise, which Recasens calls one of the most important and progressive in Spain. In 1765 he moved to Madrid, where he had been appointed maestro de capilla of the Monasterio de la Encarnación in Madrid, which enjoyed royal patronage. His last important stage work, performed in 1770, was not well received, and from then on he only composed sacred music.
Stylistically, his sacred music moves between the Baroque and early classicism. He often makes use of the stile antico, and several of his works include fugues. The scoring is mostly for eight voices in two choirs. However, there is also a clear influence of contemporary opera.
The programme opens with Laudate Dominum, a setting of Psalm 116 (117), one of the Vesper psalms. This is an example of a work in the style of the Baroque. The hymn Ave maris stella is another ‘conservative’ work; it is for only four voices. It is notable that before the verse ‘Virgo singularis’ Hita inserts an instrumental section for violin and horn. The last verse is remarkable: the choir sings the cantus firmus in unison, whereas the instruments add the counterpoint. This reminds me of the closing chorales in some cantatas by German composers, such as Johann Ludwig Bach and Christoph Graupner.
Missus est Gabriel dates from 1777 and is intended for the Feast of the Annunciation. The dialogue between the angel Gabriel and Mary shows the influence of opera. Another example is Omnes de Saba, a responsory for Epiphany. The part which starts with the words “Reges Tharsis” is set as an opera aria for soprano. The latter is also the soloist in one of Hita’s 19 Lamentations for Holy Week. It is entirely through-composed, and is technically demanding.
The programme is rounded off with two of the pieces for winds Hita composed in Palencia. Here we can admire the wind players, who make a strong impression in the vocal items as well. That not only concerns the oboes here, but also the horns, which play an important role in some of the vocal works.
The sacred music written in Spain in the second half of the 18th century is still not that well-known. This disc is an important contribution to our knowledge of the repertoire of that time. I am really impressed by the quality of Hita’s music, and I hope that more of his oeuvre is going to be explored. I would like to hear his Lamentations, for instance, which are quite different from what was written earlier in the 18th century.
Over the years I have heard many recordings of La Grande Chapelle, and I have to confess that I am a real fan of this ensemble. Albert Recasens is very careful in his selection of singers, and the result is an ensemble that is a perfect stylistic unity. The voices avoid unnecessary vibrato and this guarantees a maximum transparency and intelligibility of the text. As with previous recordings, the singing is of the highest standard. Jone Martínez is marvellous in the Lamentation. The other solo parts are also sung very well.
The booklet is impeccable, with informative liner notes in Spanish, English, French and German, lyrics with translations in Spanish, English and French, and documentation of the technicalities of this production. This is what a booklet should be.
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Laudate Dominum a 8
Missus est Gabriel a 8
Credidi a 8
Canción 7ª en VII tono a 3 in a minor
Ave maris stella a 4
Lamed. Matribus suis, Lamentación II de Viernes Santo
Canción 3ª en III tono a 3 in e minor
Magi veniunt ab Oriente a 7
Illuminare Ierusalem a 8
Omnes de Saba venient a 5