August 2012 Critic’s Pick
This extensive selection of choral music from Spain is an essential for all choral enthusiasts. Its twenty-five tracks take a narrative journey through the towns of Aranjuez, La Mancha, Extremadura, Valladolid, Salamanca, Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, before finally arriving in Valencia and Alicante. The CD notes accompanying this recording read like a storybook, dipping into historical facts, and presenting sociological and geographical influences that have shaped the musical history of Spain. With such breadth of information, Carlos Aransay, Director of Coro Cervantes, and Rupert Damerell, have provided the context for the listener to hear this music of the ‘folk’ with informed ears.
Well known for its dedication to the classical music of the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America, Coro Cervantes captures the character and nature of these pieces with much flair. Since the ensemble was founded in 1995 by Aransay, its repertoire has spanned the Middle Ages to the 21st Century. Their list of performances boast the finest cathedrals and concert halls across England, Europe, and Central and South America.
The CD notes state that Spain “has always been a melting pot of different cultures, languages, religions, and traditions.” Aurtxoa Sehaskan (track 3) from the Basque region, is a lullaby sensitively set by Gabriel de Olaizola and arranged by his brother Jose?. Olatz Saitua, the soprano soloist for this piece, carries the listener through this lullaby with ease and beauty. Arrorro? (track 19), a lullaby from Las Palmas, the capital of the Canary Islands, is the region’s official anthem, beautifully arranged by Juan Jose? Falcon Sanabria.
The flexibility and agility of the voices in El Vito (track 4) perfectly denotes the strong rhythmic pulse of the accompaniment, originally for guitar. This fiery dance would have been performed in the taverns of Andaluci?a by the women imitating the movements of the bullfighter. The persisting rhythmic nature of Xivarri (track 2) evokes the ‘mascleta?s’, the deafening displays of firecrackers and rockets typical of the Valencia region. Volar (track 6) comes from the region of Cantabria, the contrast of its landscape, set between its seafaring heritage and its mountainous areas. The calling ‘Volar’ echoes through the mountains as it is passed from voice to voice. Ton pare no te? nas (track 10) is a perfect midpoint for this recording, with its light nature, a nursery-rhyme all about noses!
The ‘villancico’ is a prominent form; it was developed in the 15th century in the Iberian Peninsula and used in popular religious music with vernacular texts. The texts vary and it is perhaps those for Christmas that are better known. Some elements of the ‘villancico’ are evident in El gavila?n (The sparrow hawk, track 18). In Adio?s Granada (track 21), sung by Tordiyo in the zarzuela Los Emigrantes, Saitua once again captures the flamenco style in the lavishly decorative melodic line, whilst
90 accompanied by the percussive rasgueo, perhaps reminiscent of the flameno dancer’s feet and the castanets. The compilation concludes with Manuel de Falla’s Balada de Mallorca with its soothing, lilting waves of sound. The singers of Coro Cervantes capture every nuance in this music from Spain. The narratives of these pieces need to be told in a way that captures every twist in the storyline, celebrates every joy, paints the picture of the most beautiful landscape, or gently lulls the young child to sleep. Aransay leads his singers through every one of these emotions with careful attention and devotion in a collection of music that is close to his heart.
www.zarzuela.net, 28th June 2010
It’s arguable that the best professional Spanish a capella choir is based not in Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao or Valencia, but in London. Carlos Aransay’s Coro Cervantes, founded with the assistance of the Instituto Cervantes in 1995, has gained many plaudits for its work in bringing the riches of Iberian choral music, sacred and profane, to a larger public. Their first CD O Crux included pieces by Vives, Bretón and Barbieri amongst many sacred rarities; and this new disc presents the profane side of the Spanish coin.
A Choral Postcard is a neat title, confounding touristic images in a cornucopia of regional styles. Only the opening track, the slow movement of Rodrigo’s ubiquitous concerto set to a chunk of verbal españolada, nods to the tourist trade; though when it’s sung with such poise, taste and impeccable tuning it’s hard not to be beguiled as ever by the bejewelled beauty of Rodrigo’s moment of genius. This is a party piece which everyone will enjoy.
What follows is a virtuoso collection of traditional songs and modern compositions covering just about every Spanish region. Mood and tempo are cunningly varied by Aransay. And the range of flavours is marvellous, from the vernal freshness of the Basque Country (Olaizola’s familiar Aurtxoa Sehaskan, with Olatz Saitua a most affecting soloist) through the light, almost French maritime melancholy of the Cantabrian Volar, to the deep fatalism of the Andalusian granadinas from Emigrantes: Valentín Ruiz-Aznar’s arrangement uses clever choral imitation of the flamenco guitar accompaniment hinted at in Barrera and Calleja’s original orchestration, without distracting from the silver thread of the quasi-improvised vocal line. What a contrast is El Vito (familiar from Giménez’s Luis Alonso zarzuelas, and earlier used by Auber in Le Domino Noir) with its fiery evocation of Andalusian women dancers imitating the movements of bullfighters.
The most recent compositions are amongst the highlights: I was spellbound by Rubén García Martín’s ¿Ondi jueron?, its juicy harmonic suspensions capitalising on the earthy strength of the Extremaduran Castúo dialect of José María Gabriel y Galán’s poem El Cristu Benditu. Here as always, the security of the choir’s tuning and sensitive response to the text make for enthralling listening.
Set apart from the main journey are a Cervantes triptych, epitaphs to Don Quixote, Sancho Panza and Dulcinea in Rodolfo Halffter’s warmly neo-classical style, seasoned with stylistic gestures towards 16th century vocal practice; and – to finish – de Falla’s late and lovely Balada de Mallorca, a five-minute setting of a Catalan text by Verdaguer, inspired by the composer’s feeling for Chopin’s Second Ballade, Op.38. Relaxed but precise, this is the best recording of this deceptively tricky little masterpiece I’ve heard.
Like a fine bottle of manzanilla, the CD is best taken at more than one setting; and in some of the more rustic songs (such as Durango’s 17th century Navarra standard Pero Grullo) Coro Cervantes’s super-smooth, sophisticated blend could perhaps have been relaxed a mite to ring the vocal changes; but that’s critical nit-picking. In truth, it’s hard to find fault with a disc so successful, in execution as much as conception. More, please!
All Music Guide, October 2010
The composers and works on this a cappella choral release are mostly unfamiliar outside Iberia, but not the melodies; the nearly two-dozen short tunes, mostly drawn on folk and regional traditions, have in several cases served as source material for or been arranged from popular symphonic works. The opening En Aranjuez con tu amor comes from Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez; Soy de Mieres (track 16) became one of the Siete canciones populares of Manuel de Falla. The charming Catalan folk song El cant dels ocells is a concert standard both for vocalists and for cello. All three of these pieces are associated with different regions of Spain, and that indicates the album’s theme: it is a "postcard from Spain" not in the usual sense of sending a few colorful Spanish scenes but instead in the sense of an entire tour of the peninsula and even nearby islands. You might call it a musical travel diary of Spain. The diversity of these small pieces is what makes the program so enjoyable; each one brings a new twist of melody or melodic flavor, new imagery or kinds of humor, and even a new language; many of the multiple dialects of the languages known as Spanish and Catalan are on display, and the choir even attempts a couple of pieces in Basque. The singing by Coro Cervantes, a British group, is nothing short of gorgeous, and the album succeeds both as a kaleidoscope of light choral songs and as a useful collection of generally unfamiliar music. Notes are in English and Spanish; the song texts are given in their original languages and in English.