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  CPO -
  777 070-2
  Flecha: Ensaladas - Balestracci
  Mateo el Viejo Flecha: Ensaladas

La Stagione Armonica
Concerto di Viole "L'Amoroso"
Sergio Balestracci
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Reviews: 1

Review by PietThePot January 27, 2012 (2 of 2 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
This disk contains three "Ensaladas," works for chamber choir (four voices per part) and instrumental accompaniment (in this recording, wind ensemble, viol consort, organ and percussion), by the late renaissance Spanish composer, Mateo Flecha "the Elder" (1481-1553). The informative notes by the conductor, Sergio Balestracci, and his son and leader of the viol consort, Guido Balestracci, inform us that the ensaladas were, as the name suggests, a mixed genre with texts combining comic and ironic and sacred and profane elements in different languages and poetic meters, intended for performance at court at Christmas time (specifically, for two of the Spanish infantas). A considerable part of the pleasure generated by this outstanding recording derives from the diversity of tone of the pieces, with declamatory, meditative, lyrical and imitative passages succeeding one another in rapid succession, and the whimsical texts. The first of the three ensaladas (and the longest at 15'41), "La Justa" (The Contest), describes a contest between Lucifer, who comes in for a fair amount of well-earned abuse, and the first father Adam, who proves to be no match for the father of lies and has to be rescued by the God of Israel, Christ, and the Virgin Mary, who duly send Lucifer packing. All good fun, therefore, which no doubt delighted the young princesses and the court during the Christmas celebrations.

As is often the case in this kind of repertoire, the instrumental accompaniments represent conjectural reconstructions because the posthumous publications (by Flecha’s nephew, Mateo Flecha “the Younger”) contain no information concerning performing practice. However, even without being able to refer to other recordings of this repertoire for comparison purposes, the arrangements by the Balestraccis have clearly been done with immense skill and sound convincing throughout. The accompaniments, including discreet percussion, are suitably deft and colourful and complement the fleet-footed and clear singing of the choir ideally, so that the many transitions and gear-changes required by the material are handled convincingly. The ensembles involved, the choir and wind ensemble La Stagione Armonica and the viol consort L'Amoroso, are Italian, but the results sound perfectly idiomatic, though one could imagine Spanish performers giving the proceedings a rather darker overall hue. Perhaps, if one were inclined to quibble, one could also imagine a slightly more clear and robust articulation of the texts, though, given the whimsical nature of the material, that could easily degenerate into histrionics.

The purely instrumental pieces on the disk, by Flecha's younger contemporary, the blind court organist and composer, Antonio de Cabezón (1510-1566) -- four "differencias" or variations on themes from folk music and one "tiento," a type of ricercar -- complement the vocal works nicely. The differencias are in essence sophisticated pieces of courtly entertainment music, of no particular profundity but easy on the ear, and are expertly performed in the present arrangements by varying instrumental groups. The “Tiento del primer Tono” is of a distinctly more learned character and is also the most extended instrumental piece at 8’05. It is in two sections, the first with alternating sections for the viol and wind ensembles, and the second, a reworking of the first, opening with an exquisite duo between the viola soprano and a wonderfully mellow-sounding organ, before being brought to a satisfying conclusion by the entire ensemble. Here Cabezón’s contrapuntal skill finds impressive expression.

The recording was made in the Palazzo Giusti in Padua in what sounds like (and, to judge from the photograph of the recording sessions in the booklet, looks like) a medium-size church. There is sufficient bloom around the choir and instrumentalists to allow everything to "mix" together into a convincing whole with details registering clearly. The sound stage in the choral pieces is broad and deep enough to create a satisfying illusion of being in the church and is discreetly reinforced by the rear channels -- in other words, pretty much an ideal approach to multichannel recording of this repertoire. For the instrumental pieces the engineers clearly chose a more intimate acoustic profile appropriate to their smaller scale. In conclusion, this disk can be warmly recommended to anyone interested in hearing this repertoire in excellent multichannel recordings. (Purists should note, however, that the information provided on the recording -- "Recorded using 24 bit 96 KHz technique" -- suggests that it was not made in native DSD format.)

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Works: 5  

Antonio de Cabezon - 4 Diferencias
Antonio de Cabezon - Tiento del primer Tono
Mateo Flecha - El Fuego
Mateo Flecha - El Jubilate
Mateo Flecha - La Justa