Barroco Español, Volume 2
The second volume of Spanish baroque music from Al Ayre Espanol – I reviewed Vol. 1 last August – concentrates on theatre music of the latter part of the seventeenth century and the first half of the eighteenth. The prevalent forms of entertainment at the Spanish court were the zarzuela and the comedia, both of which combined musical items with speech. The disc presents extracts from a number of such pieces by Sebastian Duron and Antonio de Literes, the leading Spanish court composers of the period, together with some instrumental pieces – more of which anon.
The CD is very much a showcase for the soprano Marta Almajano (the excellent Catalan baritone Jordi Ricart is featured on only two items) who, as on the first disc, proves to be more than equal to the challenge, singing expressively and with bravura as the music demands. Given the nature of this music, the recording comprises a series of fairly short items, but each quickly establishes a distinctive character and Al Ayre Espanol once again are clearly well under the skin of the idiom. Castanets and drums are confined to the most overtly popular items – for instance, the seguidillas and coplas from Literes’s renditon of the Acis and Galatea myth. His treatment of this theme is characteristic of the zarzuela with its mix of comic elements and allusions to mythology, making it quite different from Handel’s more dramatic, opera seria approach. In other ways, Literes’s musical idiom has many correspondences with Handel in Italianate vein. Perhaps the Italian influence is here at its clearest in the ‘fury’-type aria “Cielo a de ser el mar” delivered with great panache by Almajano.
There are so many other gems on this disc that it is hard to single out individual items, but try Duron’s “Ondas, riscos, pezes, mares” for plangent chromaticism – the Spanish composers were good at laments, one of the typical dramatic scenes that called for music. Duron’s “Yo no puedo” from El impossible mayor en amor is also inspired, as is the affecting simplicity of Literes’s “Adios dueno ermoso”, performed here with some impeccably delivered ornamentation from Almajano. Then there are plenty of lively arias – Literes’s “Fuego enzendido” from Los elementos is a good example – as well as pieces in which the Italianate musical idiom, featuring obbligato instruments, blends with traditional Spanish forms such as the estribillo and coplas: Literes’s “Pues soy abejuela” is particularly memorable. The instrumental items are, in fact, reworkings of arrangements of instrumental pieces for keyboard by Antonio Martin y Coll. This is reminiscent of operatic conventions of the time in which a man might sing the character of a woman dressed as a man, but given the paucity of Spanish sources of instrumental music from this period, the group is left with few options and the pieces work well enough, although inevitably there is little that is idiomatic about the writing. It is interesting that Martin y Coll’s collection includes works by Corelli and Lully in a reflection of the mix of Italian and French styles that are found in the Spanish theatre music repertory. The accompanying notes by Luis Robledo are very enlightening.
All in all, this is another enticing sample of the hitherto so little explored Spanish baroque in highly convincing performances by Al Ayre Espanol.'