Reviews

GMCD 7243 – O Crux, Spanish Choral Music

Coro Cervantes, Carlos Fernandez Aransay – Director, Tansy Castledine – Organ

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Organist’s Review – May 2003

Coro Cervantes director Carlos Fernńdez Aransay, Tansy Castledine organ. lsaae Albéniz Salmo VI del 0cleio de difuntos; Enrique Granados Salve Regina; L’Eherba del’amor; Manuel de Falla Invocatio ad Individuam trinitatem; Salve en el mar, Vieente Goicoechea Christe Factus est; Ave Maria, Amado Vives  0 Salutaris; Fernando Sor 0 Crux; Tόmas Brgéton Salve montserratina; Hilarion Esiava 0 Sacrum convivium; Bone Pastor, Felipe Pedrell A solis ortus; 0 gloriosa Virginum Francisco Barbieri Libererame Domine; Versa est in luctum; Nicolás de Ledesma Salve Regina; Juan Arriaga 0 salutails; Jésus de Monasterio Qui manducat meam carnem.

According to the concisely informative notes, it is a wonder, given the political upheavals in 19th century Spain, that there was any sacred music at all. Not until 1903 was its importance re- established. On this CD we have almost 80 minutes of excellent music, interpreted by the brilliant young director Carlos Fernández Aransay. Some of the names will certainly be wll-known from compositions in other media, but many of the others may wll be encountered for the first time; the great majority of These pieces are world premiere recordings.

The first piece on the CD, a psalm from the Office for the Dead by Albéniz, is

slow, predominantly chordal and sombre and sets the mood beautifully. The Salve setting by Granados has some imaginative organ phrases as interludes, whilst in the setting by Bréton a chant introduces a more modern idiom. One of the best pieces on the disc is the Salve by

Ledesma, an organist from Aragon. The Salutaris by Vives has an organ accompaniment with repeated chords in the LH, and is almost operatic; after a soprano solo the full choir enters for the repetition of the text. The setting by Arriaga, who died aged only 20 in 1826, is much gentler – one can only wonder what the boy may have produced had he lived longer. Sor’s 0 Crux has a finely melodic soprano line, and the two pieces by Eslava (better known, perhaps, for his comprehensive organ method) are simple and effective, Bone Pastor being a rare work here in triple time. The two pieces by Barbieri both have some highly dramatic word-painting, here rendered with precision by the choir. Eherba de l’amor by Granados has a nicely intonated soprano solo, (the text is sung in Catalan), leading to a gradual build up of voices. In similar vein is the build up in Qui manducat by de Monasterio. Vicente Goicoechea’s Christe Factus est is highly chromatic. Despite many of them being slow in pace and frequently dark in mood, the other works all have their own charm, and the director’s enthusiasm and love for this music is evident ‘Thee choir have responded with an excellent disciplined performance, and Tansy Castledine’s sympathetic organ accompaniment is never obtrusive.

The accompanying booklet gives an interesting historical background and brief notes on the composers, the specification of the organ used (Exeter College, Oxford), and especially useful for those wishing to explore the pieces for themselves there is a list of the publishers of the modern editions. For the reviewer, it was a an wonderful introduction to Spanish choral music of the post-Baroque; 1 do hope that Carios Aransay will make many more such recordings to bring us the riches of this repertoire.
John Collins


International Record Review 12.02.02

In Ealry Music – an overview of the latest releases
Finally, a disc that slipped in by accident. The cover of “O Crux” suggests a programme of Spanish choral music from the age of Victoria. But no, it’s actually a series of world première recordings of mostly a cappella sacred music written in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Albéniz, Granados, Manuel de Falla and Fernando Sor as we have never heard them before: caught up in the mystery of religion and drawing imaginatively, and often very audibly, on the styles of their illustrious ancestors. Coro Cervantes richly convey the intensity and excitement of the discovery.

Gramophone December 02

The biggest surprise for me this reviewing year was Elgar’s complete organ works recorded in King’s College Cambridge. No great surprise in that, I hear you saying, but the surprise comes in the shape of John Butt whose impressive performance skills have hitherto impressed, on disc at least, in earlier repertory. I wonder if this is the start of something new? But for my disc of the year I turn to an enchanting collection of rare Spanish sacred choral music exquisitely performed by Coro Cervantes under Carlos Fernández Aransay, the title of the disc being drawn from a lovely song by Fernando Sor, O Crux.
Mark Rochester

O Crux, un disco revelador. Revista mensual de publicación en Internet Número 34º – Noviembre 2.002

O CRUX, UN DISCO REVELADOR
Por Ignacio Deleyto Alcalá. Lee su Curriculum.
Tras esta introducción en clave de humor, nos pondremos serios. Este disco publicado por el sello GUILD presenta un infrecuente repertorio de  compositores españoles raramente asociados a obras corales religiosas interpretado por el Coro Cervantes, coro profesional creado bajo los auspicios del Instituto Cervantes de Londres y que trabaja repertorio exclusivamente español e hispanoamericano.
Un disco que sorprende por la coherencia y calidad musical del programa y que brinda al aficionado la oportunidad de tomar contacto con obras prácticamente desconocidas. A medida que se profundiza en la escucha uno tiene la sensación de ir descubriendo verdaderas joyas musicales -y no exageramos un ápice- pues es uno de esos discos que cuanto más se escuchan, más se disfrutan.
Un audaz y riguroso trabajo que ha debido suponer un notable esfuerzo de investigación, rebuscando por aquí y por allá. Y nos alegra particularmente que haya sido un maestro español el que lo firme: un inquieto director que ha sacado a la luz y conseguido grabar para todos parte de ese ingente patrimonio coral que permanece muerto de risa en archivos de iglesias y bibliotecas, dentro y fuera de nuestras fronteras.
El disco, de generosa duración, reúne diecinueve piezas, generalmente breves, para coro a cappella o acompañadas de órgano, de las que destacaremos algunas. El Salmo VI del Oficio de Difuntos de Albéniz rinde homenaje a los grandes maestros del pasado. Su aparente sencillez da pie a un mensaje recogido en espíritu aunque de contenido dramático. Su desnudez se ve acentuada por el sosegado tempo marcado por Aransay que brinda una lectura serena aunque con momentos de contenido apasionamiento. De gran belleza expresiva resulta la parte central de este motete así como la inquietante y creciente intensidad dramática que culmina en la frase “Salvum me fac propter”. En contraste, el final es suave y silente.
Estatismo y gravedad son las notas dominantes en el Christus Factus est del vasco Vicente Goicoechea. Un buen ejemplo de polifonía desnuda, sin artificios, es la obra, de efecto balsámico, que da título al disco: O Crux de Fernando Sor en la que podemos apreciar la perfecta compenetración entre las diferentes cuerdas del coro. Muy original y elaborada resulta la Salve montserratina de Tomás Bretón que combina canto llano y polifonía con un toque de modernidad en los juegos entre voces y órgano como en “gementes et flentes”.
Amadeo Vives firma O Salutaris, una breve pieza para voz solista y coro, aquí en la voz de Debra Skeen. Aunque Vives escribe O Salutaris, A Solo (Coro a 3 voces ad libitum), sin mayor especificación, según Fernández Aransay “parece claro, por la clave que usa, que es para soprano o voz blanca”. Y es una voz blanca (más que la de una soprano) la que uno tiene en mente cuando suenan los primeros acordes bajo el suave acompañamiento del órgano. De carácter teatral, es una de esas obras llamadas a gustar desde el primer momento y cuya melodía no se olvidará fácilmente. Debra Skeen resuelve bien y demuestra amplio fiato y holgura en el registro agudo aunque le falte dulzura y un punto de ensoñación. De ecos wagnerianos es el motete Sacrum Convivium de Hilarión Eslava cuyos guiños a los coros del maestro alemán no pueden pasar desapercibidos. Su Bone Pastor presenta también momentos de gran belleza potenciados por la expresiva dirección de Aransay. Con estos dos ejemplos, el navarro Eslava, autor de la gran antología de música religiosa española Lira sacrohispana, demuestra su faceta de gran compositor de música religiosa (Te Deum, Miserere, etc).
De Pedrell, máximo exponente del wagnerismo catalán y gran conocedor de nuestra polifonía renacentista, tenemos dos muestras de las que destacaremos el intenso A solis ortus en solemne y expresiva interpretación. Otro favorito es el O Salutaris del lamentado Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga, una pequeña joya impregnada de sereno clasicismo. Si con menos de veinte años era capaz de componer cosas así, es fácil pensar a dónde habría llegado de haber vivido más tiempo. Las sopranos tienen ocasión de lucirse en L’herba de l’amor de Granados, una plegaria en estilo gregoriano, cantada en catalán y dedicada a “La Moreneta”. Hermoso final con una breve pero intensa frase solista “Cap al Cel me’n volaria” a  cargo de Lucy Crowe y respondida por coro y órgano.
A lo largo del disco el Coro Cervantes demuestra su capacidad para amoldarse a las diferentes estéticas que recorren el ambicioso programa y muestra claridad en la dicción, buen empaste, clara articulación y ejemplar fraseo. Por ningún lado asoma la tantas veces mencionada frialdad inglesa en lo cual seguramente Fernández Aransay haya tenido mucho que ver. Escúchese, por ejemplo, el Salve Regina de Nicolás de Ledesma que rebosa calidez y expresividad por los cuatro costados con una destacada intervención solista del tenor Anthony Hawgood. Hasta se marcan un cierto y sugerente aire de habanera en algunas frases. La obra permite también apreciar el bello sonido del órgano del Exeter College de Oxford donde fue grabado este disco en julio de 2000.
Sin duda, estamos ante uno de los discos más originales y reveladores que han llegado a nuestras manos en este año que ya termina. Si FILOMUSICA otorgara premios a los mejores discos del año, nuestro voto se lo llevaría esta fascinante recopilación coral de autores españoles. Disco, por tanto, imprescindible para todos los amantes a la música coral.

BBC – Classical Review

If most British listeners have an image at all of Spanish choral music, it will be of Renaissance masters such as  Victoria and Lobo, who brought a special fervour to the seamless 16th-century contrapuntal style.
So neglected is 19th-century Spanish choral music that the majority of recordings on this disc, recently selected by Gramophone as a Critics Choice CD of the year, are world premières. The Coro Cervantes – Britain’s only professional group devoted to Hispanic classical repertoire – and their director Carlos Fernández Aransay are clearly on a mission of discovery and recovery. Their zeal shines forth in these performances, whose passion is balanced by finely-nuanced direction and precise ensemble.
The excitement of discovery is especially palpable in the first four tracks of the disc, which in their awestruck polyphony capture something of the spirit and technique of the Renaissance greats, from the numinous opening of Albéniz’s a capella psalm setting to Vicente Goioechea’s impassioned Christus Factus est, via some splendid organ fanfares in Granados’ Salve Regina and a perfect minute-long sliver of a motet by Falla.
The appearance of great names such as Albéniz, Granados, Falla and Sor in the unfamiliar guise of sacred choral music is one of the best surprises of the collection.
At just under 80 minutes and with 19 tracks this disc is good value, though such a rich feast demands a lot of the musical digestion. Every work but one is in Latin, and the acoustic and organ of Exeter College chapel, Oxford make for a somewhat uniform texture – albeit wonderfully mellow and full-bodied across a well-balanced recording.But thoughtful programming is very helpful here, with a
capella numbers and those with organ accompaniment alternating to vary the texture, and several works featuring a solo part peppered throughout. There’s also a range of idiom and mood, from the sublime intimacy of the more modern opening numbers to the light-hearted and operatic, by way of Francisco Barbieri’s dramatic word-painting and Pedrell’s densely syllabic settings.
If at times the quality of the music seem uneven, this is probably a fair reflection of a period in which Spanish church music seems to have been under attack from all sides, as first Napoleonic invaders and later the Spanish government itself seized church assets, closed music chapels and finally banned lay musicians from performing in churches. Hardly surprising that the choral tradition became somewhat impoverished as a result – which makes the care and attention that have clearly gone into assembling what is generally a very strong collection all the more impressive.
Matthew Shorter

Gramopohone  10.02

Albéniz Salmo VI del Oficio de difuntos Arriaga O salutaris hostia Barbirei Libera me, Domine. Versa est in lumm Bretón Salve Regina Montserratina Eslava O Sacrum convivium. Bone Pastor panis vere Falla Atlántida – Salve en el mar. Invocatio ad Individuam Trinitatem Goicoechea Christus factus est. Ave Maria Granados Salve Regina. L’herba d l’amor Ledesma Salve Regina Monasterio Qui manducat meam carnem Pedrell A solis ortus cardine. 0 gloriosa Virginum Sor O Crux Vivas O Salutaris  Tansy Castledine org Coro Cervantes / Carlos Fernández Aransay
Guild (F) GMCD7243 (80 minutes: DDD) Texts and translations included
An entertaining British take on rare 19th-century Spanish Choral music
Political upheavals in Spain during the 19th century have been over-shadowed by those of the 20th century, yet, as Carlos Aransay points out in his fascinationg note, for virtually the entire 19th century political manoeuvrings had an absolutely catastrophic effect on Spanish sacred music. With male religious orders and boys’ choirs abolished, music chapels all but abandoned and only ordained priests allowed to perform music in church, it seems astonishing that Aransay has managed to fill a single disc.
Certainly some of this music comes from obscure composers such as Vicente Goicoechea – represented by a sumptuous a cappella setting of Christus factus est and a distinguished Ave Maria for male voices and organ – and Amadeo Vives, whose decidedly operatic O Salutaris provides a splendid vehicle for the vocally red-blooded Debra Skeen. But there is also a surprising number of names whose reputations have been made in very different fields; Albéniz, clearly pre-empting the sacred music of Poulenc in his richly expressive setting of Psalm 6, Arriaga and Granados, both of whom adopt what can be best described as a Mendelssohnian approach, Sor, whose neat exercise in quasi-17th-century Italian polyphony gives the disc its title, and Falla, whose richly polyphonic item from his cantata Atlántida is perhaps the one masterpiece here.
Polished and beautifully precise as their singing is, there is no escaping the fact that Coro Cervantes is a British choir, nor that the smooth-toned organ and warm and comfortable acoustic, so admirably captured in this lovely recording, belong to an Oxford College (Exeter) rather than a Spanish cathedral. But for all their Anglican overtones, these singers, under the clearly-focused direction of the utterly Spanish Carlos Aransay, reveal this to be music of far more than mere curiosity value; this is a disc to enjoy on many levels.
Marc Rochester

Classics Today – July 02

There are several surprises on this recording, beginning with the repertoire–19th century Spanish sacred music, much of which is recorded here for the first time and nearly all of which will be virtually unknown to choral music listeners. Due to the oppressive political situation in Spain during the 1800s–especially devastating to the musical functions of the church–composers and choirs had very little opportunity to further the development of any viable, legitimately Spanish religious music. Consequently, the sacred music that was produced came from beyond the borders of Spain and tended to owe its influence to more prevalent European styles, particularly French and German, and to the recognizable attributes of music by composers such as Fauré, Liszt, and Bruckner. In fact, anyone who’s comfortable in the dense-textured, profoundly dramatic, harmonically expansive sound-world of any of the above-mentioned composers will find much to enjoy on this generously filled (nearly 80-minute) CD. (In one of this program’s less-impressive selections there’s even a nod to Mendelssohn at his most cloying and sticky–Amadeo Vives’ setting of O Salutaris; and Felipe Pedrell’s A solis ortus sounds like an English cathedral anthem by Stanford, or any of a number of other very competent Anglican church composers from the latter 19th century.)
Another surprise is Coro Cervantes–a professional London-based ensemble “dedicated solely to the Hispanic classical repertoire”–an exclusive niche if ever there was one! Not surprisingly from an English choir, the standard of ensemble singing is exceptionally high, and on both a technical and interpretive level there’s nothing to fault here. (Interestingly–and unusually–I didn’t recognize any of these 16 singers as belonging to any of the more prominent professional London groups, which speaks well to this choir’s exclusivity and commitment to its narrow-focused vision.) Most listeners will find this program an enjoyable if not thoroughly enlightening experience and will appreciate such ambitious and passionately wrought works as Vicente Goicoechea’s (1854-1916) Ave Maria or Tomás Bretón’s (1850-1923) Salve montserratina. There’s much fascinating music here–none of it especially original or even inspiring, but all of it worth hearing for its priceless contextual/historical importance alone. If only the sound, from Exeter College, Oxford, hadn’t been recorded so closely and obtrusively–then we could enjoy this excellent choir’s performances in a truly balanced, realistic concert-hall Perspective.
David Vernier