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Kenneth Keaton
American Record Guide, January 2011

Hernandez-Pastor has a truly beautiful instrument; some of these songs are exquisite. Abramovich’s playing is well matched to the hushed quality of this performance and he has a solid rhythm and clear control over the polyphonic voices. For the sheer beauty of the singing and the expressiveness of many of the individual songs, I can recommend this performance.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Johan van Veen
musica Dei donum, September 2010

There are not many amateur composers who have made a name for themselves and whose works are still performed. Diego Pisador is one of them, and although his music isn’t that often performed and isn’t held in great esteem by some, the fact that a whole disc is devoted to his only only collection of music is an indication that he is not to be neglected.

Pisador was living in Salamanca and made a living as a tax collector. In his spare time he played the vihuela and was dreaming about publishing a book with tablatures for the vihuela. With this book he aimed at helping out people who wanted to learn how to play the vihuela. It took him 15 years to compile the book and then two years to print it. That was something he had to do himself, as the printing industry wasn’t that well developed. It cost him a fortune, and probably to cover the costs he sued his father and brother over the inheritance his mother had left.

The book contains 95 compositions, ranging from masses by some of the great masters of polyphony, like Josquin, Gombert and Morales, to Spanish and Italian secular vocal pieces—all intabulated by Pisador—and some fantasias of his own making. This disc contains the bulk of the Spanish songs—romances and villancicos—as well as four Italian villanesche by Adrian Willaert. Unfortunately the composers of the various pieces are not given in the booklet—only the four compositions by Willaert are easily recognizable.

The programme delivers an interesting survey of the kind of songs which were popular in Spain in Pisador’s time. There is quite some variation in the texts and the music. As one may expect, a number of them deal with love, including laments about the absence of the beloved (Partense partiendo yo) and the longing for love (Si te quitasse los hierros). Some are about (female) beauty, as the villancico which gave this disc its title, Si me llaman: “They call to the prettiest, I ensure they call me”.

Two specific genres should be mentioned. First, the three romances are related to the role of the Moors in Spanish history. Passeavase el rey moro, for instance, is about Alhama, taken by the Christian troops, ten years before the fall of Granada. The second genre is the endechas de Canarias: “Originally funeral songs, later they became laments for ill-fated love”, the programme notes say. An example is ¿Para qués dama tanto quereros?: “What’s the use of loving you so much, my lady? If I am to lose myself and to lose you, best would be not to see you again”. The character of the texts is also vary different. Quién tuviesse tal poder is quite sophisticated, whereas En la fuente del rosel is playful and lighthearted.

The first time I heard the Spanish alto José Hernández-Pastor was in the Early Music Festival Utrecht of 2008, which was entirely devoted to Spanish music. I was struck by the beauty of his voice and his artistic versatility. Listening to this disc was another fine experience, because of the subtlety of Hernández-Pastor’s interpretation, his excellent delivery of the text, his differentiated ornamentation and brilliant control of dynamics. With Ariel Abramovich he has a completely congenial partner. He gives excellent support and contributes some nicely played solos. He uses three different vihuelas in various tunings.

This is a disc to treasure: beautiful music sung by an excellent singer with a beautiful voice, and played by a fine artist on beautiful instruments. What more one could ask for?

Evan Plommer
Lute Society of America Quarterly, June 2010

Diego Pisador was born around 1510 in Salamanca, the eldest son of Alonso Pisador and Isabel Ortiz. Diego’s maternal grandfather, Alfonso II of Fonseca, was Archbishop of Santiago, and great patron of music. Alonso Pisador worked as a notary for the Archbishop and, in 1524, he moved to Toledo, and then again in 1532, to Galicia. Diego’s father would not return to Salamanca until 1551, after Isabel’s death in September of 155.

In 1526 the young Diego took holy orders, but did not continue in an ecclesiastical career. In light of his father’s itinerant nature, Diego had charge of the economic affairs of the family and worked as the majordomo in the city of Salamanca, a position formerly held by his father. To put it bluntly: he was a tax collector. At mother’s death—after a legal battle with his father and brother over her estate—Diego inherited the lion’s share of the family fortune. In 1553, Diego sold the family home, and in 1557, father and son were still at odds. It is not unreasonable to conjecture that the family felt Diego’s resolve to push ahead with the huge task of compiling, editing, and printing a large volume of vihuela music had become an expensive obsession. In any event, the Libro de Musica de Vihuela was printed in 1552, in Salamanca.

José Hernandez-Pastor and Abramovich offer a broad selection of songs from Pisador’s Libro: romanzas, villancicos, and villanescas. The epic and tragic Passeavase el Rey Moro, perhaps the most easily recognized romanza in this genre, is ethereal without becoming maudlin. Villancicos of differing character are represented, although the duo avoids strong contrasts. Also included are intabulations of 4 villanescas of the Flemish Adrian Willaert. Several songs are only fragments in Pisador’s Libro, so the performers have, by necessity, completed several songs using other (sometimes primary; other times secondary) sources. Pisador was apparently confident that the middle-to-upper-class purchasers of his book would be so familiar with the complete texts that printing them in their entirety was unnecessary. Four pieces of Juan Vasquez which Pisador arranged for vihuela and voice did not appear in printed, polyphonic vocal versions until years after the Libro. And El Cortisano manages to include several of the better-known songs in this repertoire: “Y con que la lavare” and “Passeavase el rey Moro,” as well as chestnuts like Willaert’s “A quand’a quand’haveva.” The only repertorial anomaly on this recording is the complete absence of sacred music, which the Libro contains in abundance. Pisador made intabulations of 8 of Josquin’s Masses, as well as devoting a section to Motets by various composers, some of which are texted in one voice, suggesting strongly that they were indeed intended to be sung.

The excellent (and non-stuffy) insert notes by Francisco Roa tell us that Pisador’s Libro has been maligned—unfairly—on the grounds that its contents are of mediocre quality, and that it contains numerous errors. Roa contends that the charge of mediocrity isn’t even subjectively sustainable, and that all the vihuela books contain printing errors, and Pisador’s seems no worse than any of the others.

José Hernandez-Pastor’s voice is focused and passionated; this is an art rendering, not a folksy one. He sometimes falls victim to an uncontrolled vibrato, which might be better described as a very rapid tremolo, on sustained notes, but he’s far from alone among male altos in this. Also, the extra attention that a high male voice draws (from modern listeners, anyway) has the danger of creating a persistent imbalance in a duo like this. The importance of the text, already paramount, is even raised a notch or two.

Although the vihuela da mano is often described as being the Spanish equivalent of the lute, there are differences: Pisador’s music makes regular use of the tenth fret of the vihuela. This suggests that vihuelas offered easier access to their upper registers than the 8-fretted lutes of the period. This recording uses three different sized vihuelas: two 1984 instruments in a′ and e′ by Joel Van Lennep of Boston, and, another of middling size in g′, by Martin Haycock of Chichester; all that’s missing here is a true bass vihuela. Abramovich is one of the few younger-generation lutenists who seems to have all the technical skills, intelligence, and, dedication necessary to pick up where the older will have to leave off. I would have liked to have heard more vihuela solos from him. (This disc contains a generous 27 tracks, if you include the bells of Salamanca at 9 p.m.) This would actually have emphasized the predictably strong vocal nature of Pisador’s book: Abramovich is meticulous in bringing out a choral sensibility in all the fantasias. What a pleasure to hear him use arpeggiation sparingly, too. Abramovich plays some subliminally quiet notes in the bass of the vihuela; on the 5th course in particular. Watching El Cortisano perform via internet video, I felt that I understood the performances better: they present each song as a little drama, and, that I could more easily imagine that I was actually hearing more of these subtly placed notes.

This finely wrought recording gets me (back) to thinking that it might be better for performers like El Cortisano—who integrate the dramatic in such a physical way—to record video, rather than audio disks.

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