M. PLA Salve Regina. Pedro, cuánto has dejado. Regocijese el alma venturosa. Es tan sumo el amor. 3 coronas admite de nuestro cello. J. PLA Stabat Mater • Olivia Centurioni, cond; Raquel Andueza (sop); Pau Bordas (bs); Catalana Baroque O (period instruments) • LA MÀ DE GUIDO 2106 (62:56 Text and Translation)
Once upon a time there were the three brothers Pla. All were woodwind players and hailed fromRead more Catalonia, though they apparently grew up in Madrid. The eldest, Joan (c. 1720–73) and his brother Josep (1728–62) were oboists, whose careers took them to Portugal, England, France, and finally to Germany, where they found work for Duke Carl Eugen. The third brother, Manuel (c.1725–66), initially followed them to Portugal, but decided to return to Madrid, where he had a successful career as a woodwind performer (on both oboe and bassoon) as well as becoming known as a keyboardist. While all three composed music, Manuel was considered the real musician in the family, someone whose interest in Spanish idioms such as the tonadilla and seguidilla made him quite well known. As these are hardly household names even in their native province, it is not surprising that they have remained on the extreme periphery of 18th-century music, and their music has been relegated to the depths of the Spanish archives, though Joan (that is Catalan for John, in case you were wondering about gender here) did publish a set of some 30 trios in London.
This recording is a clear attempt in Barcelona to rectify their anonymity by presenting works that represent both their compositional talents and the patrimony of Catalan music that is slowly beginning to emerge from its two-century slumber (and of course the notes are both in Catalan and Spanish, as if to say that these are two very different heritages). Of these, the Josep Pla Stabat Mater is the only work that can conclusively be attributed to him (the remaining instrumental pieces are known only as by “Signor Pla,” which makes authorship difficult). It is, however, a rather remarkable piece in E?-Major, written expressly for Count Xabier Munibe Idiakez, a Basque nobleman who first performed it in 1754. The roots of Giovanni Pergolesi’s famed Stabat Mater are evident, though the scoring is much richer and the harmonies sometimes striking, such as in the opening movement when the line veers off into strange territory with the words “dolorosa,” almost as if underscoring the sadness of the mood. Pla also includes two movements, the “Quis est homo” and “Eia mater,” as accompanied recitatives, the latter with decisive chords in the strings. The “Fac ut ardeat” seems to be a fugue without the counterpoint, that is to say, Pla uses a line that is ripe for contrapuntal development but never does anything more adventurous than simple suspensions. If this is any indication of Joseph Pla’s ability, then one must wonder what else might be hiding in the archives.
The bulk of the disc is devoted to his brother Manuel’s rich trove of sacred works, and they reveal him to have been no less competent. The aria for St. Peter, Pedro cuánto has dejado, has some rather nice horns, a beautiful insertion of a calm adagio into the sometimes florid writing for the soprano that neatly divides the work into sections, and some really impressive part-writing; it comes from the archives of the cathedral in Guatemala. Not only does this indicate that Pla’s music had transatlantic appeal, it also shows that the performers in New Spain were highly competent artists. The Salve Regina is another multimovement work, with a mysterious opening movement with soft marching strings and very Pergolesian suspensions. The “Ad te clamamus,” however, is an operatic tour de force, with a simple triadic opening that is immediately ornamented, spun out, and developed melismatically. The disc ends with a seguidilla from one of Manuel Pla’s sacred dramas, this one with a very Iberian sound of solo guitar and castanets, making one almost want to dance.
Soprano Raquel Andueza’s voice is clear and vibrant with a nice depth to the tone. She is clearly well versed in the style and makes this music come alive, while Pau Bordas has a flexible bass with a good timbre in all of the registers that the difficult music requires. Conductor Olivia Centurioni keeps her early-music ensemble on task, nicely outlining the phrases, the sometimes halting contrasting sections, and close suspensions that both Pla brothers use. The horns could have been a bit more prominent in the Stabat Mater, but the mood of the piece I suppose requires something a bit more circumspect. This is hardly a quibble, for this disc brings to life a long-forgotten family of composers who really ought to be researched and performed more often. I would encourage the continuation of this Catalan musical patrimony and heartily recommend this disc as an important part of just how broad the vitality of 18th-century music really was.