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Arca de Música - Instrumental Music in New Spain - Volumes 1 & 2
La Fontegara México
rec. 2017, Sala Xochipilli, Faculdad de Música, UNAM, Mexico City
MERIDIAN CDE84645/6 [61:47 & 60:31]

In the last two decades or so music from Latin-American sources has enjoyed increasing interest from performing musicians and ensembles. It has resulted in a number of recordings which include music never heard before and unknown from European sources. With that in mind, expected the two discs under review here to include more of such repertoire. However, as the track-lists show, the names of most of the composers are quite well-known. That is not to say that these two programmes have nothing to do with the New World, and more in particular with Mexico, which is where the ensemble La Fontegara has its roots.

In the liner-notes to the second disc, we read: “During the eighteenth century, several European writers expressed their disdain for the American Continent and everything that belonged to it, including its people. (...) The dean of the Cathedral in Alicante, Manuel Martí, referred particularly to New Spain, lamenting its absolute backwardness and the lack of any form of culture in the country, to such a degree that literature simply did not exist”. This kind of disdain provoked a Mexican scholar of the 18th century to make a catalogue of books written in New Spain.

One could say that these discs aim to demonstrate that the music scene in New Spain also deserves to be taken seriously. Music was performed in church, in the theatre and in domestic surroundings, by both professional players and amateurs. A large part of the repertoire was of European origin. The liner-notes to the booklets don’t touch the question of how exactly this music came to New Spain. The booklet to the second disc refers to migration to New Spain during the last decades of the 18th century, especially of musicians of military bands from France and the southern Netherlands. “Many of the musicians hired in the Teatro Coliseo of Mexico City in the second half of the eighteent century came from the military sphere, and then they sought to find posts in the ecclesiastical chapels”. Obviously, migration dates from an earlier time, and this is undoubtedly the way music from Europe came to the New World. The Jesuit mission also played a major role, from the 16th century omwards.

The two discs span a period of about seventy years of music making in Mexico. The first volume is devoted to repertoire from the mid-18th century. Here we find the most ‘original music’. That is to say: the music is mostly of European origin, but was arranged in different ways by musicians from Mexico. Moreover, all the pieces included here are taken from Mexican sources. The most famous composer in the programme is Pietro Antonio Locatelli, who was one of the most brilliant violinists of his time. He spent most of his career in Amsterdam, where he also published his music. It may come as a surprise that Locatelli composed and published a set of sonatas specifically intended for the transverse flute. However, the inventory of goods compiled at his death included three flutes. He even taught the flute to an amateur from Amsterdam, Mr. Romswinkel. This set of sonatas is included in a manuscript preserved in the library of the Anthropology Museum of Mexico City.

From this same collection the performers have taken other pieces. The first disc opens with five dances, which have been transcribed and arranged by La Fontegara. Unfortunately the liner-notes don’t tell us what the scoring in the manuscript is. Some pieces were originally conceived as orchestral works, such as Marcha del Retiro, which is identical with the march opening the first act of Francisco Corselli’s opera Il Farnace. Among the composers of these pieces are also André Campra, Antonio Sacchini and Ignacio Jerusalem. The latter could be the composer of the Marcha a dúo de Jerusalem, one of several ‘flute duos’, also taken from this manuscript with flute music. These duos may have been intended as pedagogical material. In the liner-notes the performers note that they found some concordances between these duos and the didactical duos of Michel Blavet, by far the most famous French flautist of the first half of the 18th century.

The Solfeggi by the Italian composer Leonardo Leo, best-known for his operas, were certainly intended for educational purposes. These pieces are also known as partimenti. This refers to a particular genre of keyboard music. <i>New Grove</i> gives this definition of a <i>partimento</i>: “A term used fairly frequently in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to denote exercises in figured-bass playing, not so much as accompaniments to a solo instrument as self-contained pieces”. The first two of these pieces are played here on the harpsichord. The other two are performed as ensemble pieces. These items are taken from a notebook of the Cathedral of Mexico City, which includes 34 such pieces. The Sonata VI by Antoine Mahaut is taken from the same collection. He was from the southern Netherlands, and a brilliant flautist, who travelled across Europe as a performer and was also active as a teacher. He published a flute method which included important technical innovations. From this sonata only two movements are included; the two remaining movements are missing, and the performers suggests that this was due to the fact that one of them was a minuet, which may have been found “too mundane” for performance in church.

Lastly, there are four pieces by Santiago de Murcia, the only composer in the programme who actually lived and worked in Mexico; he arrived here at some time between 1718 and 1731. Educated on the guitar, he wrote a considerable number of pieces which are included in two anthologies, among them the Códice Saldívar 4. From this source the four pieces played here are taken, transcribed and arranged by the ensemble. Among them we find a piece on a basso ostinato (Folías gallegas) and Fustamberg, whose title reminds us of a concerto comique by the French composer Michel Corrette.

In comparison, not that much need to be said about the second disc, as the composers are generally fairly well-known, even though the music by some of them is not part of the standard repertoire. That goes especially for Richter and Devienne. Two pieces are especially noteworthy. The first is an anonymous sonata for keyboard, called Sonata quinta del señor Aydem in a minor. The latter name has given food for speculation that this piece may be from the pen of Haydn. However, in Haydn’s oeuvre we don’t find any keyboard sonata in the key of a minor. It is in one movement with three sections, following each other attacca.

With the Sonata in a minor for transverse flute and basso continuo by Luis Misón, we return to the collection in the library of the Anthropology Museum of Mexico City, which figured prominently in the first volume. Misón is a little-known composer from Spain, who was a professional player of the flute and the oboe, and who became best-known in his time for his tonadillos. This sonata is preserved in the same collection of flute sonatas in which Locatelli’s sonatas are included, and it is the only source of this particular piece. It is a very beautiful work which should be part of the repertoire of today’s flautists.

These two items are the only pieces from Mexican sources. The selection of the other works are based on a catalogue from 1801. In the second paragraph I mentioned a catalogue of books written in New Spain. Its compiler, Juan José de Eguiara y Eguren, could not finish his job. In order to publish his work, he had founded a publishing house, which in 1766 was bought by Padre Jose de Jauregui, who turned it into a music store. In 1801, after his death, an inventory was made, which comprised more than 1730 entries. This was the starting point for the members of La Fontegara in putting together a programme of pieces mentioned in the inventory. It is not always entirely clear which piece is meant. That goes, for instance, for Bacc: ob. 2. The performers assume that Bacc refers to Johann Christian Bach, the member of the Bach dynasty who was certainly best-known across the world. The ensemble has taken a sonata from Bach's Opus 2.

The choice of a sonata for viola da gamba and basso continuo by Carl Friedrich Abel raises some questions. The inventory includes the entry Bac y Abel. Ob 14; this reminds us of the close cooperation between Abel and Johann Christian Bach. However, as far as I know this did not result in compositions to which they both contributed. Here we hear a sonata from Abel’s Op. 6, but the work-list in New Grove includes only a set of six flute sonatas as Op. 6. It does also mention a sonata in e minor for viola da gamba and basso continuo without an opus number. What exactly is the sonata included here?

François Devienne is represented with a sonata for two flutes. Here the second part is performed on the guitar, arranged by Eloy Cruz.

These discs are a little different from what I had expected when they landed on my desk. However, I am certainly not disappointed about what is on offer here. These discs are of great importance as they shed light on a lively music scene in what in the 18th century was a rather remote part of the world. It attests to the lively exchange of musical manuscripts and editions as well as performers during the 18th century. The technical level of many pieces is considerable which indicates that many musicians in Mexico, and that includes amateurs, were very skilled. In the two programmes the transverse flute plays a key role. That is due to the line-up of the ensemble, but it seems quite likely that in the 18th century the flute was in Mexico as popular as it was in Europe.

I had never encountered this ensemble from Mexico. They have several discs to their credit, which I unfortunately have never heard. Maybe I will find the opportunity to make up for this, because I have greatly enjoyed these two recordings, not only because of the music, but also because of the fine performances. These artists are really first-class and deliver outstanding performances. María Díez-Canedo is a sensitive artist, who breathes life into the pieces she has selected. Her articulation and dynamic shading are spot on. Eunice Padilla shows her skills especially in the anonymous sonata, one of the highlights of these discs.

Lovers of 18th-century chamber music should investigate these discs. They are substantial additions to their collection, and I am sure that they will enjoy them just as I did. I certainly hope to hear more from La Fontegara México.

Johan van Veen

Vol. 1
ANONYMOUS, arr. by La Fontegara
Five dances:
Marcha del Retiro (after Francesco Corselli) [1:53]
Minuet V (after Antonio Sacchini) [0:46]
La Amable (after André Campra/anon) [2:06]
Marcha de Nápoles [2:01]
Seguidillas [1:54]
Pietro Antonio LOCATELLI (1695-1764)
Sonata in A, op. 2,7 [11:13]
Santiago DE MURCIA (1673-1739), arr. La Fontegara
Folías gallegas [2:44]
Las Penas [2:51]
Gaitas [3:23]
Fustamberg [5:08]
Antoine MAHAUT (1719-1785)
Sonata VI:
adagio [2:11]
allegro [4:24]
Duos for two transverse flutes:
Marcha a dúo de Jerusalem (Ignacio Jerusalem?) [2:07]
Minuet [0:49]
Marcha [1:54]
Minuets [2:41]
Leonardo LEO (1694-1744)
Gustoso - Allegro [3:17]
Andante [1:51]
Largo - Andantino e gustoso [4:56]
Largo - Allegro [3:30]

Vol. 2:
Johann Christian BACH (1735-1782)
Sonata for keyboard, transverse flute and bc in G, op. 2.2 (Warb B 44) [7:33]
Carl Friedrich ABEL (1723-1787)
Sonata for viola da gamba and bc in e minor, op. 6.3 [6:41]
Franz Xaver RICHTER (1709-1789)
Sonata II for keyboard, transverse flute and bc in G [18:19]
Sonata Quinta del señor Aydem for keyboard in a minor [7:27]
François DEVIENNE (1759-1803), arr. Eloy Cruz
Sonata II for two transverse flutes in C [9:56]
Luis MISÓN (1726-1766)
Sonata for transverse flute and bc in a minor [10:35]





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