About this Recording
8.579027 - HERNÁEZ, C.: Songs (Music and Poetry) (Toba, Conde, Mariné)
English  Spanish 

Constancio Hernáez (b. 1957)
Music and Poetry


This album comprises Constancio Hernáez’s complete works for solo voice and piano. Vocal music more generally makes up a substantial part of his wide-ranging catalogue, which also includes a variety of pieces for other chamber music combinations in which the composer feels equally at home. The earliest work recorded here is Tres canciones de amor, which was written in 2001; the latest is Nocturnos de la ventana, which dates from as recently as June 2017 and forms the conclusion to the composer’s extended series of works that pay homage to famous Spanish poets. Despite the years that separate these six works, the series as a whole is notable for its stylistic unity.

Hernáez’s settings closely echo his chosen texts, his tonal/modal treatments of the words aimed at communicating them clearly to his listeners, as well as conveying his own perceptions of the poems in question. The piano and vocal lines flow independently from one another, taking it in turns to play the leading role, with tensions, harmonies, rhythms and timbres shared between the two, all within a neo-Classical order and aesthetic, and with touches of nationalist colour in places. In each piece recorded here, the individual poems are treated as separate movements of a single work. As is Hernáez’s usual style, the vocal lines are syllabic (one note per syllable), except for the last line of a strophe, where the final syllable may be melismatic (a group of notes sung to a single syllable). Also, the composer often makes his final syllable a note held for an entire bar or longer.

The works on this album lead listeners on an attractive journey through a variety of musical and poetic landscapes. The list of poets whose writings have sparked the composer’s imagination takes in an array of periods and styles of expression. We hear the soft, intimate voice of Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer; the exquisite and inimitable tones of Juan Ramón Jiménez; the unbounded and delicate lyrical passion of Luis Cernuda; the spirit and grace of Federico García Lorca; the gentleness of expression of Ángel García López; and the chiselled concision of Pedro Provencio. Central to Hernáez’s settings are their clear structure, their inventiveness and the refinement of their harmonic writing, among other aspects.

Different layers of sound are created by the use of varying tempi, pitches and rhythms. Hernáez has no hesitation in combining different time signatures within a work or using decisive intervals and balanced forms to conclude his works. Particularly striking is the way his chosen resources constantly enliven his themes and result in a clearly sustained style. These six works call to mind a parade of figures from Spain’s musical past, with an abundance of references appearing in an eloquent and richly coloured soundworld.

Tres canciones de amor (‘Three Love Songs’, 2001), which sets poems by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (1836–1870), was composed as part of a project organised by Talea, a Spanish association dedicated to promoting contemporary music. It was premiered by pianist Martín Acevedo and soprano Claudia Yepes at the second Tres Cantos Contemporary Music Festival in Madrid, an event to which new works were also contributed by other Talea composers, including Eduardo Morales-Caso, Novel Sámano and Luis Rodríguez de Robles. In 2004, Tres canciones de amor was performed at the 19th Havana Contemporary Music Festival by soprano Conchita Franqui and pianist Marita Rodríguez.

In Poemas de abril (‘Poems of April’, 2009), the composer takes three poems by Juan Ramón Jiménez (1881–1958) and, by employing a great variety of technical and compositional devices, constructs a work of enormous creativity, particularly as far as the piano writing is concerned. Each of the poems has its own imposing character, and yet all three are tightly woven together within the overall structure. This work is dedicated to the bass Enrique Lim, a friend of the composer. It was first performed in Madrid’s Tres Cantos Auditorium in May 2010, by Lim and pianist Duncan Gifford.

Seville-born poet Luis Cernuda (1902–1963) inspired the Tres poemas amorosos (‘Three Love Poems’, 2009). Dedicated to soprano Shu Ping, another friend of Hernáez, the work was composed at the request of his cousin Rosa Martínez Montón, a professor of literature. While aware of the difficulties posed by their sheer length, the composer was compelled by the radical beauty of Cernuda’s poems to accept the challenge of setting them to music. The result is a remarkable extended work, in which the emotions expressed by the poet find their counterpart in the composer’s musical narrative setting. The work was given its premiere in May 2010, again at the Tres Cantos Auditorium, by pianist Duncan Gifford and its dedicatee, Shu Ping.

Tres canciones (‘Three Songs’, 2012), whose poems are by Pedro Provencio (b. 1943), has much in common, musically speaking, with the composer’s Juan Ramón Jiménez collection. Each of the songs leads us towards very personal horizons imprinted by Hernáez with his own colour and identity. Especially noteworthy are the warmth of Nieve (‘Snow’), the sober restraint of Canción de Job (‘Job’s Song’) and the percussive/ rhythmical treatment given to Tierra natal (‘Native Land’). The work was first performed at the 16th Madrid Contemporary Music Festival (COMA’14), in December 2014, by pianist Sebastián Mariné and baritone José Manuel Conde.

Apócrifos (‘Apocrypha’, 2015), which sets poetry by Ángel García López (b. 1935), was premiered in February 2016 in the Sala Manuel de Falla of Madrid’s Palacio de Longoria, home of the SGAE (the Spanish Association of Authors and Publishers). The programme also included the four works already mentioned in these notes and, according to Hernáez himself, the audiovisual recording of the event, which was entitled La poesía en mi mirada (‘Poetry in my gaze’), was the starting point for this album. The soloists on that occasion were the same artists who appear on the recording: soprano Marta Toba and baritone José Manuel Conde. There is a close personal connection between composer and poet here: Ángel García López, winner of Spain’s National Prize for Literature, was the teenage Hernáez’s history teacher. Constancio Hernáez explores the poet’s thoughts in depth, his musical vision closely interwoven with the textual discourse. His approach to the piano writing is quite different here from that of the rest of his works, with the exception of some of the Bécquer settings.

As mentioned, the final work in the composer’s Music and Poetry series is Nocturnos de la ventana (‘Nocturnes at the window’, 2017), which sets four poems by Lorca. It is dedicated to Marta Toba and José Manuel Conde. Although its four movements differ structurally, thematically and in terms of interpretative intention, the poems are linked together both musically and textually by a brief section of the first movement. This gives a sense of unity to Nocturnos and sets it slightly apart from the other works in this series.

Cebrián Alcamines
English Translation by Susannah Howe

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