, February 2005
"Juan García de Salazars name may no longer be a familiar one, but during the Baroque era he was among the most well known of Spanish composers of church music. Exemplary of the polyphonic vocal music that was popular in Spain, and quite innovative for the region and time, much of his music was still being used in liturgical services throughout the nineteenth century. We know that he was writing liturgical music by the age of 19, and that he served as maestro de capilla for three different cathedrals throughout his adult life. Therefore it is appropriate that his work could be collected together in a recording such as this, to exhibit the music in its original and intended format.
Even so, not enough of his music is extant to recreate a full liturgical service. Thus there are organ selections included by other Spanish composers living and writing during the Baroque era. Also, because of the tradition of performing instrumental music during the liturgy, where none of García de Salazars exists, the decision was made to transcribe some of his vocal music for period instruments. The result is an authentic recreation of a vespers service that could easily have been performed in Zamora Cathedral in 1700.
In many ways de Salazars work reminds one of William Byrd, Palestrina, or other composers of the late Renaissance. This is partially because the works of Bach and Haydn were more influential in Northern Europe, and where it borrows from its contemporaries, it borrows more from Haydn. There is nothing in the way of fugue writing. Of course, interspersing plainchant throughout the service also reminds the listener of music far older than the 1600s. This probably frames the entire collection in an early-music context resulting in the early music and Renaissance "feel" amid the largely Baroque instrumentation. This does not detract in any way from what is actually produced. The music itself is lovely.
The performances throughout are quite good. The decision to put them in their proper context, as a complete vespers service, is intelligent and audibly useful. Rather than a randomly collected group of unrelated works, this becomes a complete musical experience. Vocally, the performers do a commendable job. The melodies sound with absolute purity. The chants flow mellifluously. The solo work of Josep Cabré lends a gravitas to the works that is both absolutely in character and contrasts well with the straight-toned chants.
The transcriptions for instruments also leave little to be desired. The Ministriles de Marias (Marsayas’s minstrels) are more than simply competent. They perform both their accompanying and featured roles with an obvious expertise derived from intimate knowledge of the genre. Also, it is rare enough to find medieval and Renaissance instruments in Baroque works, but the shawm and dulcian are refreshing additions to the aural tapestry. Additionally, the string accompaniments provided by Capilla Peñaflorida are similarly outstanding.
Even the booklet is well done, giving helpful explanations of the works, the reasons for their selection, and the entire text, both in the original tongue and in English translation.
It is evident that a great deal of care has been put into this album. It is well performed and recorded throughout. García de Salazar’s work, while no longer familiar, is very good. In summation, there is little about this recording not to like. One cannot help but recommend it."