Canciones and Ensaladas Spanish Renaissance Songs and Dances
Hard on the heels of the New London Consort’s disc dedicated to the ensaladas of Mateo Flecha (L’Oiseau-Lyre, 3/98) comes a further contribution to the Iberian song repertory of the sixteenth century from the Ensemble Clement Janequin directed by the irrepressible Dominique Visse. This is a totally different experience in almost every way. The Ensemble Clement Janequin perform only two of the ensaladas and these frame a selection of songs by Juan Vasquez and the Catalan madrigalist Joan Brudieu as well as vihuela music by Alonso Mudarra and Enrique de Valderrabano. (The booklet-notes talk at some length about Diego Ortiz, but his music is not featured on the CD, though perhaps its inclusion was the original intention; these notes are generally somewhat misleading, especially in the rather poor English translation.) It is a real pleasure to hear some more of Vasquez’s excellent songs on disc: usually it is the villancicos in popular vein that are featured, but here we have some of the more serious, madrigalian pieces. Try Lagrimas de mi consuelo, one of his most extended settings in which he comes closest to the motet style of the period, and savour those mournful suspensions. Mostly the songs are considerably shorter, lasting only two or three minutes, but Vasquez is a masterful songster and perfectly encapsulates the mood of each text. Brudieu’s strophic setting, in Catalan, of the Seven Joys of the Virgin calls for sustained singing, around which the instrumentalists here weave increasingly elaborate extemporized divisions. All the songs, and also the ensaladas, are performed with one voice to a part and slightly varying combinations of organ, viol and plucked strings (lute, vihuela, guitar). This is, therefore, a much more restricted instrumental palette than is to be found on the New London Consort’s Flecha recording, and yet how much more interesting are both the overall sound and the music-making! Each member of the Ensemble Clement Janequin is closely miked, but the overall blend is superb, and the rich, translucent sonority achieved is utterly compelling. (I would still have liked to have heard some items performed without instruments, but, you’ll be relieved to read, I’m not going to bang on about that again here.)
What distinguishes this CD above all is the liveliness of the musical response to the words that are being sung: the pronunciation is not 100 per cent consistent, but every word is crystal-clear and the level of vocal energy and focus is always spot on, all of which is especially noticeable in the ensaladas. Here the interpretation is just right: theatrical and colourful, often funny, but never camp or ludicrously over the top, all this stemming, I am sure, from Visse’s own instinctive and secure sense of the theatrical. I’m still not convinced that Flecha had even this more plausible combination of voices and instruments in mind when he composed the ensaladas, but I think he would have appreciated these versions of La bomba and La guerra for their sensitivity to the rhetoric of the texts and the real flair at the heart of the performance. Do add it to your collection, you won’t be disappointed.'