Velázquez and the Music of His Time / Cappella Mediterranea; Clematis; Namur Chamber Choir et al.


Velázquez and the Music of his Time is a compilation CD assembled to coincide with a 2015 exhibit at the Grand Palais in Paris of Diego Velázquez's (1599-1660) most important paintings. Aside from Velazquez’s 120 surviving works of art, his appointment to Philip IV of Spain in 1623, and his work with the Academia di San Luca in 1649, we know little about the painter’s life. The booklet that accompanies this recording, and is available online, gives a fine account of what is known about his life and work. He did make a painting in 1618 of three musicians (two guitarists and a fiddle player) entertaining themselves amid wine and cheese, but there is no reason to believe that Velázquez had any specific connection to music, particularly music of the formality and quality on in this collection. Still, many of the composers here were contemporary compatriots of Velázquez, and hearing the music of a particular time and place does enhance the experience of visual art.

Before 1492 the Spanish peninsula was full of Jewish and Arabian musical traditions. After Ferdinand and Isabella Catholicized Spain, those traditions were no longer considered part of the "legitimate" music of the 16th and 17th centuries, but they managed to survive. They also made their way into the music of other European countries, like England, Italy, and France. Many of the composers who found work in the Spanish courts (as well as courts in Italy) came from the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. This recording has a very exciting Italian-flavored traditional folia that demonstrates the alluring rhythmic spice of pre-Inquisition Spanish music by Matheo Romero (1575-1637) who was born Mathieu Rosmarin in Belgium, and studied in Madrid with the French-born Philippe Rogier. You can hear suggestions of that "spice" in the later pieces of sacred and secular music on this release.

The music in this collection comes from Ricercar recordings made between 2008 and 2011; the performers are, without exception, Baroque music specialists of the highest caliber. One of my favorite pieces here is an instrumental Canzon by Fray Bartolomé de Selma y Salaverde that features violinist Stéphanie de Failly and bassoonist Jérémie Papasergio. The traditional Chacona and Xácaras are played by La Real Cámara (courtesy of Glossa CD 929201) and feature violinists Emilia Moreno and Enrico Gatti. There is some solo keyboard music (one organ piece, and one harpsichord piece), and a good deal of vocal music. One of the loveliest vocal pieces here is Francisco Guerrero's Pan divino graçioso, which is a four-voice a cappella Villancico with a beautiful brass introduction.

Not everything here is Spanish. We get several selections from Gioseffo Zamponi's Italian opera Ulisse all'Isola di Circe, which seems to be included in this collection because it was performed in 1650 when Philip IV of Spain, Velázquez's patron, married Marianne of Austria. Matheo Romero incorporates a lot of Italian musical tendencies into his sacred music, and his Magnificat for double choir sounds downright Venetian.

All the performances are excellent, and demonstrate serious dedication to all the styles and idioms. The liner notes, which are available online, are written in English, French, Italian, and German.

Francisco Guerrero (1528-99): Maria Magdalene