Cervantes’ quadricentenary through diverting music of the 17th to 20th centuries

A Tribute to Cervantes

Spanish music from the 17th to the 20th century
Gaspar Sanz, Boccherini, Enrique Granados, and songs by Federico García Lorca (presuably words and music) and by Manuel de Falla, Antonio Alvarez Alonzo, Manuel Lopez Quiroga, Santiago Lopez Gozalo, Pascual Marquina

Manuel Breiga – violin and Adrian Fernandez – guitar

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Sunday 27 March, 6 pm

This year is the 400th anniversary not just of the death of Shakespeare, as the whole world knows, but also of Miguel Cervantes. Not only the same year, but also the same month – April – and even more surprising just one day apart! S. on 23 and C. on 22 April.

Cervantes was longer-lived, having been born in 1547. In an introduction it was pointed out that the two players were, serendipitously, from La Mancha which was the home of Cervantes’ hero.

The concert was supported by the Spanish Embassy in Wellington and the Spanish and Latinamerican Club,

Violinist Manuel Breiga introduced each bracket (in Spanish, and his words were translated). Evidently he gave no information about the composers or their music, other than the titles, which were, in any case, in the printed programme. Perhaps, given that it was a free concert and much of the audience was there for Spanish rather than musical reasons, this was acceptable.

The celebration of Cervantes was marked with the use of music written around 70 years after his own time. Don Quixote was written between 1600 and 1613 while Gaspar Sanz was born 24 years after Cervantes died (Sanz’s dates: 1640 to 1710) and most of his music was written between 1670 and 1700.

It was interesting to hear the six pieces by Sanz, since I had been awakened to his significance by the concerts given at the 2014 festival by the American lutenist Hopkinson Smith who played a number of Sanz’s pieces, some of which were used by Joachim Rodrigo in his charming Fantasia para un gentilhombre. At least three of the pieces Rodrigo chose were also played at this concert.

Tunes from the first dance, Españoletas, the fourth, Fanfarria de la caballeria de Nápoles and the sixth, Canarios, were all used in the Rodrigo Fantasia. They were divertingly varied in style, rhythm, mood, from the forthright Españoletas, to the more lively Gallarda y Villano and Rujero y paradetas, the latter enlivened with a shift to a skipping, triple time, in a middle section.  Though the violin led the way most of the time, the guitar had a long solo passage in a dance in six/eight, dotted rhythm.  The big confident sound produced by the amplified instruments gave a very different impression of music from an age of discreet taste, though not one that would have seemed inappropriate to most listeners; and it’s not merely a question of using early music in a modern way on modern instruments; Rodrigo did that very successfully.

The passacaglia movement from the famous Boccherini quintet, Op 30 No 6 (Música nocturna en las calles de Madrid, to give its title in Spanish) lay well for these two instruments – it survives all sorts of arrangements.

Only a fortnight ago the violin/guitar duo, Duo Tapas played at St Andrew’s, and they played one of the Granados dances that these Spaniards chose: the Oriental from his Twelve Spanish Dances. This evening we also heard No 5 of that set, Andaluza, the most popular of them. Even though they were written for the piano, the latter dance has become so familiar on the violin that Breiga’s performance sounded perfectly idiomatic; the Breiga-Fernandez duo played both Granados pieces splendidly.

Then they played a group of Spanish folk songs by Federico García Lorca. They were all from the Trece canciones espanolas antiguas – ‘13 old Spanish songs’. Breiga referred to Lorca as both poet and composer which came as a surprise to me. My impression from glancing at Internet references, was that the music was either traditional or by others; after all Lorca called them ‘old’. However, the website IMSLP states categorically that the composer is Federico García Lorca. The pieces were characteristic, genuine, perfumed in various ways, though they did rather cry out for a voice; they are all sung beautifully on YouTube by Teresa Berganza, and a few are also sung by Victoria de los Angeles. While the violin and guitar did them reasonable justice, their García Lorca inspiration was diminished without the words.

The final group of five songs and dances, were varied, though all speaking of aspects of Spain and its rich popular culture. They began with the Miller’s Dance from The Three-cornered Hat by De Falla, which was carried off with gusto; then Suspiros de España, ‘Sighs of (for?) Spain’, by the short-lived Antonio Alvarez Alonzo, plaintive with its falling phrases.

Maria de la O by Manuel López-Quiroga had a deeply traditional air, though it looks as if its origin was in a 1958 film. Again, sung versions had a passion that the more subdued violin and guitar performance could not really generate.

However, the taste of these recent Spanish songs and access to impassioned and persuasive sung versions has provided me with an hour or so of unexpected pleasure as I write this. A traditional, trumpet-led tune called Gallito by Santiago Lopez Gozalo, and España Cañi by Pascual Marquina ended the concert, apart from an encore of the tenor favourite, Granada.

The sound this very accomplished duo produced was not what we are used to hearing today in music of this kind. While it is normal to amplify a guitar except in a domestic situation, it is unusual to amplify the violin. Here both instruments were amplified to an unnecessary degree, which rather changed the character of the music and imposed a sometimes deadening uniformity of tone where the variety available in a natural acoustic would have been more interesting.

The duo’s style clearly suited music of the 19th and 20th centuries better than that of earlier periods: amplification there seemed more acceptable. So I found the second half of the recital more enjoyable than the first, which I had not really expected.

But it would have been interesting to have developed the Cervantes theme rather more, through music more closely associated with the Spain of the 16th century.  I wonder about the early 17th century, baroque flourishing of the Zarzuela and its association with the great dramatist Calderón, whose career lay between Cervantes and Sanz.


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