REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Raquel Andueza & La Galanía and Concerto 1700

Raquel Andueza & La Galanía: “17th century songs and dances of a distinctly earthy character, with lyrics that sometimes left little to the imagination”. Picture: Michal Novak

Beyond The Spanish Golden Age: Raquel Andueza & La Galanía, May 13; Concerto 1700, May 14, both at National Centre for Early Music, York

THE Spaniards rode into town over the weekend.

There is nothing quite so invigorating as hearing music that you have never had the chance to encounter before. Thanks to the sponsorship of Instituto Cervantes, the Spanish equivalent of the British Council, two groups introduced works that were certainly new to these ears and doubtless to many others in the enthusiastic audiences.

Raquel Andueza is a soprano who co-founded her support-group, La Galanía, which normally comprises violin, guitar and theorbo. Even without its violinist, who was indisposed on this occasion, they are a lively combo. They concentrated on 17th century songs and dances of a distinctly earthy character, with lyrics that sometimes left little to the imagination.

The jácara was a romance – we might call it a ballad – usually with a low-life character at its heart. The zarabanda – before the French turned into a sober sarabande – was a wildly erotic dance in its original Spanish and Mexican form, even being banned at court as early as 1583.

These, along with the folia, a lively dance-song, formed the backbone of mainly anonymous works that have been rediscovered in collections outside Spain, mainly in France, Italy and England.

Andueza’s light soprano relished the nuances in her lyrics, in a programme entitled I Am Madness, after Henry du Bailly’s famous song to anonymous lyrics with which she opened.

Andueza’s style was catchy and charismatic, made immensely more so by the stylish, distinctively ethnic playing of baroque guitarist Pierre Pitzl and theorbist Jesús Fernández Baena. They stroked and strummed with panache, alternating the percussive with the delicate. It was intoxicating.

Concerto 1700: “Their ensemble was everywhere remarkably taut”

Concerto 1700, as its name implies, takes its repertoire from the 18th century. The string trio was the dominant ensemble at the Madrid court during the reign of Charles IV, who ruled from 1788 to 1808 until deposed by Napoleon’s brother. Madrid was a magnet for Italian composers in particular. Boccherini was the best known of them and invented the guitar quintet there.

His Second String Trio, Op 34, was packed with gripping detail: headlong scales in thirds involving the two violins; a virtuoso cadenza for the cello ranging over the whole spectrum, coolly despatched by Ester Domingo, during the minuet’s trio (not a place where you expect much action); a chromatic Adagio studded with brisk interjections and ending with a violin cadenza for leader Daniel Pinteño; and a dashing final rondo. The ensemble took all this in its stride.

Cayetano Brunetti, another Italian immigrant, took on a Spanish name – he was christened Gaetano. He produced some dashing coups in his Sixth Trio, notably abrupt breaks in mid-phrase, even more daring than Haydn, and a racy finale studded with birdsong.

These alone were eye-openers, but they were complemented by two trios composed by local talent José Castel that were brimming with good humour. His opening movements, deceptively marked Allegretto Gratioso, were anything but, quite volatile in fact.

What made Concerto 1700 so satisfying were the intimate reactions between the players, with the expressive features of the second violinist, Fumiko Morie, a weather vane of emotions linking her colleagues. As a result, their ensemble was everywhere remarkably taut.

These concerts were the first at the NCEM to be sponsored by Instituto Cervantes. We must earnestly hope that they will not be the last. This music deserves much wider currency than it has received so far in this neck of the woods. It’s simply too good to waste.

Review by Martin Dreyer