Brief and benign “Spanish Disquisition” on St.Andrews’ Chamber Organ

St.Andrews Lunchtime Concert Series:
Spanish organ music from the Renaissance to the Baroque
Ephraim Wilson (organ)

Cabezón: ‘Dic Nobis Maria
Victoria: ‘Sancta Maria succurre miseris’
De Aguilera de Heredia: Tiento Lleno based on ‘Salve Regina’
Bruna: Tiento del segundo tono … Sobre la Letania de la Virgen
Cabanilles: Tiento Lleno

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

 Wednesday, 18 March 2015, 12.15pm

Although relatively short, and not well attended, the organ recital was interesting, in that it introduced an organist new to most of us, was played entirely on the small baroque organ, and consisted almost entirely of Spanish organ music, which I am sure was new to everyone in the audience.

Pedals were not part of the design of Spanish organs (or indeed many others) at the period covered by the programme: Renaissance to Baroque. So we had a total of one pedal note in the entire programme; that in the last piece, by Cabanilles.

After explanatory remarks about the programme, Wilson played the short ‘Dic nobis Maria’ by Antonio de Cabezón (1510-1566). His articulation of ornamentation was very fine, but at the beginning the tempo was rather uneven.

Tomás Luis de Victoria (c.1548-1611) was the most famous of the composers featured. As Wilson’s programme note stated, his complex style of writing created emotional intensity, not a common feature (to modern ears, anyway) of earlier music. Here a little more separation of repeated notes would have been desirable, especially in the melody lines.

The remaining pieces were in the form of ‘Tiento Lleno’, which Wilson described as a Spanish musical form analogous to the fantasia in other traditions, but also having elements of the toccata. The first one, based on the Salve Regina, was more complex than the previous pieces, and was played with a fuller registration. It was by Sebastián de Aguilera de Heredia (1561-1627); the music was very well articulated.

Pablo Bruna (1611-1679) was another new name. The full title of the piece by him is ‘Tiento del seguno tono por Ge Sol Re Ut Sobre la Letani de la Virgen’. Having swotted this up a little, I hazard that ‘Ge’ is the low bass G, which in the system of hexachords (the basis of the sol-fa system of John Curwen in the early nineteenth century) was the lowest note recognised in writing music down – thus the word ‘gamut’, the ut being the bottom note in any scale (now called doh in English-speaking countries).

My Spanish dictionary gives ‘sobre’ as ‘in addition to’ and ‘por’ as ‘from’, so I hazard a guess that the piece’s title might be Tiento on the second tone from A [the second note from G], to E, to B, to A, in addition to the Litany of the Virgin’.

Bruna’s melody at the beginning of the piece, and which recurred throughout was, however, rather akin to Arne’s ‘God Save the King’ (Arne was born nearly one hundred years after Bruna’s birth). The changes in registration, and thus dynamics, employed between the various sections increased the interest of this piece.

Despite the programme note for the final Spanish work stating that the Tiento Lleno “Like the previous tiento (this piece) is intended to be played on full register throughout…”, I think this must have applied to the previous work, Aguilera de Heredia’s Tiento Lleno, since there were many changes of registration in the Bruna piece.

Cabanilles’s was a true baroque composition, and contained drama and excitement. It featured quite a lot of staccato, but again, there was not enough separation of repeated notes.Wilson added a short Bach chorale prelude, but it was not one with which I was familiar. It, too, was played without pedals.

The little organ has quite an incisive, even loud tone, especially on full organ. However, though it was interesting to hear the Spanish works, and on the whole they were well performed; perhaps a little more variety of programming might have made for greater appeal.

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