LUZ DEL ALVA: SPANISH SONGS OF THE EARLY RENAISSANCE
RAMÉE 1203 (66:29
Text and Translation)
DALZA, PONCE, BADAJOZ, LEÓN, BRUECQUET, PENALOSA, PESARO, TOORE, GHISELIN, JOSQUIN, ESCOBAR, FERNÁNDEZ, ENCINA, RIBERA, ANCHIETA
This album derives much of its vocal content from two unique manuscripts. The
Cancionero Musical de Palacio
is a celebrated collection of nearly 460 songs, most of them unavailable from any other currently known source. It was compiled between roughly 1470 and 1505 by nine separate hands, and runs the gamut of tone from religious to sensual, chivalrous to satirical. Some composers are named, such as Juan del Encina, Francisco de Peñalosa, and even Josquin. Much else is anonymous, but the overall quality is high. Then there is the
Cancionero Musical de la Colombina
, a slightly earlier compilation originally in 107 folios, of which 17 are now lost. (As an irrelevant aside, one of its owners was the wealthy bibliophile Fernando Colón, second son of Cristóbal Colón, better known to us today as Christopher Columbus. He accumulated a library of approximately 15,000 manuscripts: a true collector.) Roughly half its works remain anonymous, though the other half have been largely identified through their appearance with attributions in other manuscripts.
This album mines these collections for their more serious, frequently polyphonic content, with the eternal theme of love: unrequited, anticipated, despised, and savored. Just occasionally, as in the vivid romance
, we have a piece that celebrates military prowess, but even the triumphalist Age of the Two Monarchs couldn’t long obscure the musical art of the intimate. The orchestral selections on this disc in turn come from a variety of sources, and are more uniformly popular in style. Most of this music will be unfamiliar to most listeners, but there are exceptions, such as Dalza’s
Calata ala spagnola ditto terzetti
; and the anonymous
has been heard often enough live and on discs in recent times to count as an early music standard. Individual versions of
may not be well known—three are heard, here, out of more than 100—but the theme itself is instantly recognizable. For the rest, lack of prior acquaintance should prove no bar to enjoyment. This is music that has been discerningly chosen for its sense of immediacy, and the program as a whole achieves its objectives with ease.
Luz del Alva
is the fifth album released by La Morra, but they’ve only been reviewed once before in
. That was the recently issued two-CD set of the complete Ciconia (Ricercar RIC 316) in 35:4, covered by J. F. Weber. His review focused on musical comparisons, noting only that their performances, along with those by Diabolus in Musica, were “uniformly fine.” But that La Morra differed substantially from the lineup for this release. It was a seven-person ensemble, with three dedicated singers. All that remains of them on
Luz del Alva
are the two leaders, Corina Marti, who plays flutes and harpsichord, and Michal Gondko, on various plucked instruments and drum. They are joined by Tore Eketorp, on the bowed vihuela (vihuela de arco, an ancestor of the viola da gamba), Arianna Savall, for voice, harp, and drum, and Petter Udland Johanssen, for voice, fiddle, and drum.
I have no objections to make of their eight instrumentals, out of a program of 23 selections. These are handled in a technically proficient manner, with skill at improvising in a fashion that is believed to be stylistically appropriate, according to the best knowledge we currently have. Where I do have problems is with the vocals. Johanssen’s small but pleasant tenor is effective enough, but Savall’s thin, white soprano has no chest support. She either uses or has no vibrato, and affects a swell on most held notes that becomes irritating over time. I find this habit, combined with her tone, detracts from her excellent enunciation and carefully varied delivery.
The album was recorded in a highly reverberant church in Binningen, Switzerland, and that’s another cause for concern. Nevermind that this material was hardly likely to be played in a large ceremonial hall, much less a church. My concern is that the venue creates a cavernous haze smearing both voices and some details of the song accompaniments, and is at odds with the intimate nature of the music. This is particularly frustrating when one considers all the trouble La Morra clearly went through to provide good, cleanly articulated, expressively phrased, multi-part arrangements. Is
Luz del Alva
worth purchasing? For the music and the majority of the performances, certainly; but you owe it to yourself to sample the singing and the sound before you buy.