Cabanilles Batalles, Tientos & Passacalles
Jordi Savall’s new ‘own-brand’ label certainly likes to package its CDs attractively, with this one coming in a glossy little gatefold of bright but tasteful design, with lengthy insert-notes in six languages, Catalan among them. It is a shame, then, that these notes – for which you may find a magnifying glass useful – take a good 500 words to get around to telling you just what is on offer here, namely consort performances of contrapuntal organ pieces by the instrument’s greatest Spanish exponent during the second half of the seventeenth century, Valencia Cathedral organist Joan Cabanilles. (That one of them is now known to have been by the German Johann Kaspar Kerll they take no notice of at all.) There is no direct evidence that this kind of instrumental appropriation by ensemble is something that was actually done, but there is much of the circumstantial variety, and Cabanilles did conveniently write his pieces out in full score. Certainly they are sufficiently convincing as consort pieces for it to be excusable if you failed to guess their origin; their contrapuntal emphasis gives them more of a renaissance flavour than a baroque one, but there are plenty of baroque-style virtuosic divisions, decorations and, in the two tientos falsas, anguished chromaticism.
Savall has assembled for them a mixed ensemble of viols and assorted winds, plus a chamber organ and a harp, and through imaginative mixing and matching achieved the kind of textural contrasts and balances Cabanilles would presumably have had in mind for the organ. The difference, however, is that these performances have none of the harsh attack or unforgiving sound of the organ, bringing to the music instead a vocal warmth and flexibility, while losing nothing in instrumental agility when it comes to florid passagework. In short these are beautiful and gentle performances, carefully modulated, lovingly balanced and well thought out from beginning to end. What is more, they show just how endlessly and marvellously self-renewing the early music repertoire can be.'