Seventeenth-century Spanish music is far less well represented on disc than the great cathedral polyphonic repertory of the sixteenth: This new release from The Newberry Consort focuses on one of the best of the composers who came in between: It is only in recent years that serious research on seventeenth-century Spanish theatre music has been undertaken, a leading light in the field being the American musicologist Louise Stein who has clearly also been involved in this project.
It is indeed a well thought out recording, both in terms of the varied selection of pieces—Hidalgo's tonos or songs and other theatre pieces alternating with consort works by Falconiero and Bartolome de Selma y Salaverde—and in musical presentation. The Newberry Consort's line-up of violin, gamba and theorbo is here supplemented by recorder Marion Verbruggen and two of the best continuo-players around, Stephen Stubbs on guitar and Andrew Lawrence-King on harp.
This makes for assorted colourful combinations in the accompaniments to the vocal items as well as in the purely instrumental pieces. The playing is first-rate all round: The singer, Judith Malafronte, also brings a strong sense of characterization to bear on the wide range of Hidalgo's vocal style, from the charmingly disarming Como ha de saber Belilla? With a libretto by the great Golden Age playwright Calderon de la Barca, this is high quality stuff, strikingly reminiscent of the later Monteverdi operas though Hidalgo often tends to the more facile and immediately appealing lyricism of Cavalli.
This is particularly marked in ''La noche tenebrosa'' from the Second Act of the zarzuela of , Los celos hacen estrellas , with its haunting little refrain that so expressively and unexpectedly turns in on itself. Laments, dramatic recitatives, dance-like songs—Hidalgo characterized each with insight, proving himself a highly talented composer of theatre music whose works, were they in English or Italian, would already be better known.
Judith Malafronte's Spanish diction is always clear, and she varies her approach and vocal timbre to suit each piece.
Just occasionally she lets rip on an ornament and momentarily seems to lose control, but she sings stylishly and with admirable conviction. All in all, this is a very enjoyable recording, scrupulously prepared and imaginatively executed: If you are a library, university or other organisation that would be interested in an institutional subscription to Gramophone please click here for further information.
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