Coro Cervantes

Nuestro Director

Revista Gramophone (01/12/2002)
Marc Rochester

An entertaining British take on rare 19th century Spanish choral music.

Political upheavals in Spain during the 19th century have been overshadowed by those of the 20th century, yet, as Carlos Aransay points out in his fascinating booklet essay, for virtually the entire 19th century political manoeuvrings had an absolutely catastrophic effect on Spanish sacred music. With male religious orders and boys' choirs abolished, music chapels decimated and only ordained priests allowed to perform music in church, it seems astonishing that Aransay has managed to find enough worthwhile music to fill a single disc, let alone as generously as this. Certainly some of this music comes from obscure composers such as Vicente Goicoechea -represented by a sumptuous a cappella setting of "Christus factus est" and a distinguished "Ave Maria" for male voices and organ - and Amadeo Vives, whose decidedly operatic "O Salutaris" provides a splendid vehicle for the vocally red-blooded Debra Skeen. But there is also a surprising number of names whose reputations have been made in very different fields; Albéniz, clearly pre-empting the sacred music of Poulenc in his richly expressive setting of Psalm 6, Arriaga and Granados, both of whom adopt what can be best described as a Mendelssohnian approach, Sor, whose neat exercise in quasi 17th century Italian polyphony gives the disc its title, and Falla, whose richly polyphonic item from his cantata Atlántida is perhaps the one real masterpiece here. Polished and beautifully precise as their singing is, there is no escaping the fact that Coro Cervantes is a British choir, nor that the smooth-toned organ and warm and comfortable acoustic, so admirably captured in this lovely recording, belong to and Oxford College (Exeter) rather than a Spanish cathedral. But for all their Anglican overtones, these singers, under the clearly-focused direction of the utterly Spanish Carlos Aransay, reveal this to be music -much of which has not previously appeared on record- of far more than mere curiosity value; this is a disc to enjoy on many levels.