Notes and Editorial Reviews
Born in Seville (the son of a painter), Guerrero seems to have spent most of his life in that great Andalusian city - though he worked briefly in Jaen and Malaga, and in later life spent some years (1581-1584) in Rome, as well as making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1588-1589; spending some time in Venice on both outward and return journeys. In his youth he studied with Christóbal de Morales. At the age of 15 he became a choirboy in the cathedral in Seville; eventually he was to become maestro de capilla there. In modern times he is best known for his large-scale choral works, of which a number of fine recordings exist – such as the collection by Peter Phillips and The Tallis Scholars on Gimell CDGIM 040, which includes the Missa
Surge propera and several striking motets (see review) and the recording of his Vespers for All Saints and the Missa Pro Defunctis by the Chapelle du Roi directed by Alistair Dixon on Signum CD017 (see review).
Guerrero’s eighteen Masses, his many motets, his settings of the Magnificat – these are important and satisfying works in the tradition of Renaissance polyphony. Rather less well known and, admittedly, less central to Guerrero’s standing as a composer is the music represented on this CD. While it may not be fully representative of Guerrero’s achievement as a composer, it is certainly not without considerable interest. It reflects Guerrero’s involvement in the rich cultural life of Renaissance Seville.
All of Guerrero’s works for Church use set, naturally, Latin texts. Here, on the other hand, the texts are in the vernacular. Guerrero mixed with significant Spanish poets such as Baltasar de Alcázar and Gutierre de Cetina, setting texts by them. These songs and villancicos - in older Spanish the word describes a particular musical/verse form, in modern Spanish it means a Christmas carol - were predominantly settings of secular texts.
Some at least of these songs were written early in Guerrero’s musical career; some can be found in manuscripts dated as early as 1548. When the composer eventually decided to publish some of this repertoire, towards the end of his life, he put sacred texts in place of the original secular words. The volume of Canciones y villanescas espirituales was published in 1589, precisely the time of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
It is fascinating to hear Guerrero working on this more intimate scale. So far as I can judge with my very limited Spanish - unfortunately the sung texts are provided only in Spanish - there is a certain amount of word-painting, part of a detailed musical responsiveness to text. The ‘spiritualisation’ of the original texts is often only surface-deep, so that most such effects survive. Many of the settings contrast passages of counterpoint – sometimes in five voices, sometimes less – with some elegant homophonic writing and the results are often quietly beautiful. This music may lack the sublimity of Guerrero’s major choral works, but what it doesn’t lack is imagination and consummate craftsmanship. There is a good deal of variety , too; from the bright energy of ‘¿De dónde vienes, Pascual?’ to the relative sobriety of ‘Acaba de matarme’.
La Trulla de Bozes was founded by Carlos Sandúa in 1998; their first CD, Sevilla circa 1560: Secular Polyphony of the Andalusian School (Passacaille PAS 936) was widely praised. I haven’t, sadly, heard it, but this later CD makes it easy to understand why it got such a positive reception. There is a smoothness of vocal production and balance, achieved without loss of clarity, which makes La Trulla de Bozes very easy on the ear; their singing has a pleasing rhythmic vivacity, without ever feeling forced or mannered. The instrumental trio (the bajón is an ancestor of the bassoon) acquit themselves very well when called upon. This is a very enjoyable CD, both for the quality of performance and recorded sound and because it explores still relatively little-known music of some considerable quality.
-- Glyn Pursglove, MusicWeb International
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