THE KINGDOMS OF CASTILLE: Spanish, Italian, and Latin American Music of the 17th and 18th Centuries • Richard Savino, cond; El Mundo (period instruments) • SONO LUMINUS 92131 (74:28 Text and Translation)
Music by ANONYMOUS, ARAÑES, CASTELLANOS, FALCONIERI, HANDEL, HIDALGO, MANELLI, MARÍN, MAZZOCCHI, OREJóN Y APARICIO, D. SCARLATTI, ZIPOLI
The rediscovery and recording of the music of New Spain hasRead more proceeded apace since the series on K 617 was launched about two decades ago. The pioneering work of Robert Stevenson and others uncovered a vast treasure trove of works used in Latin America, from the California missions to Chile and Argentina, with the 18th century being a particularly active and interesting period wherein works were both commissioned from abroad and written by local composers. The musical establishments, largely associated with churches on two continents, ranged from somewhat poverty-stricken (Quito in Ecuador comes to mind) to elaborate (Mexico, Lima), and there appears in many instances to have been a widespread absorbing of native musical elements, particularly in the former Incan and Aztec realms, while other centers, notably Caracas or Buenos Aires, housed active public concerts and even in the former an entire school of composers mentored by Padre Sojo. While there were backwaters where things were a bit primitive, there can no longer be a doubt that the music of this hemisphere was developing in conjunction or parallel with that in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries.
This disc represents a compendium of works this time drawn not only from Latin America, but from the Spanish homeland as well; the Italian in the title refers to composers who were under Spanish rule during the period. One often forgets that Spain was a presence, particularly in the south of Italy, and composers were sent to Naples, a city under Spanish rule for a time, to be trained. Today, composers such as Ignacio de Jerusalem or Esteban Salas are at least known, though perhaps hardly household names, and their music is available on a number of discs, ranging from Chanticleer’s Matins for the Virgin of Guadalupe on Teldec to a set of Bolivian Jesuit operas by Abendmusik on Dorian. Then, too, there is the recent television special on the recovery of a trove of 18th-century music from the wilds of this last country, a sort of musicological Indiana Jones escapade. All this aside, there are numerous compendia of these sorts of works, which began with the K 617 releases and of which this is one, all presenting a kaleidoscope of music from the Hispanic realms for these two centuries.
This disc stands out, however, because of its scope, nearly two centuries worth of music (all right, a century and a half). Moreover, the repertoire seems to have been chosen with a sort of populist sentiment in mind. The nice little anomalous Sinfonia para empezar by Domenico Scarlatti is a really short work in an arch form reflecting both the Italian origins and something Spanish. No one really knows what it was intended to be, but it does make a nice beginning for this disc. The Francesco Manelli work is suitably late Monteverdian, sounding for the world like an outtake from Poppea, while the cantata by Handel with “Spanish guitar” is a work that is nice, compact, and very much in the style of Domenico’s father, Alessandro. Beyond that, the bulk of the works in the first portion are by names one would not ordinarily encounter: Juan Arañes (d.1649), Domenico Mazzocchi (1592–1665), and Andrea Falconieri (1585–1656), most of the works not surprisingly bearing ostinato chaconne (sorry, ciaccona) basses reflecting a popular Spanish idiom. One must remember that this “lewd and lascivious” dance from South America had to be banned by the Pope; apparently people in Iberia were so taken with it during the 17th century that they formed the equivalent to conga lines to dance it, neglecting their other tasks and, if one is to believe the authorities, engaging in commerce of a rather different type at all hours of the day or night. The Mazzocchi Sdegno campion audace, probably the earliest of these, is more of a passamezzo, but the intertwining textures above the ground are skillfully written. The Falconieri seems to be more of a suite of ground basses, all presented with nice percussion that outlines their direct use in actual dances. The South American portion blends nicely into this first part, since not only are a good many of the works based on an ostinato bass as well, but the percussion becomes more active, as might befit a work from across the Pond. Guatemalan composer Rafael Castellanos (c.1725–91) was quite prolific, but the Oygan una Xacarilla is particularly effective in blending Quiche Maya culture with a traditional Christmas villancico text. Not surprisingly, one can hear the ciaccona in the bass, reflecting that Catholic church music could be tolerant of inserted secular notions. Peruvian José de Orejón y Aparicio (1706–65) is likewise represented by a villancico, this one both Marian and Incan in text and, one suspects, music, with a beautiful final set of couplets. The final work is an excerpt from Jesuit priest Domenico Zipoli’s opera on Saint Ignatius, a work conceived and produced throughout the Andean region of New Spain. Although composed in opera seria style, it harkens back to the didactic works of the early Roman operas of Emilio di Cavalieri, among others, being somewhat static dramatically, but imbued with lessons remembered through lyrical underlay.
All of the music for this and other compendia tends to follow a well-trod path. Generally the accompaniment consists of a variety of plucked instruments and violins, often with an improvised percussion. El Mundo as an ensemble is crisp and clean in performance, with tempos that keep the music alive and rhythmically active. I especially like the guitar playing of Paul Psarras and director Richard Savino; in La Folia the latter provides an equal and resonant foil to Adam LaMotte’s distinctive violin, and the former perfectly complements Nell Snaidas’s flowing line in José Marín’s No se yo como es. This is an excellent disc and it sets itself apart from the other compendia by having a progressive historical program based upon grounds of one sort or another. The sound is crystal-clear, and although from time to time a bit more resonance could be desired, this nonetheless provides probably the best performances of these works to date. If you are seeking new and progressive compositions, this disc probably won’t be your cup of tea, but if one is seeking entertaining music, well performed and delightful, you will want to have this.