To the best of my knowledge, Juan Esquivel has hitherto enjoyed only a walk-on part on anthologies; this is the first complete album devoted to his music. His setting of O vos omnes from the Good Friday liturgy features on an earlier (1996) Hyperion recording of Holy Week at the Chapel of the Dukes of Braganza, performed by A Capella Portuguesa, directed by Owen Rees (CDA66867, Archive Service or download with pdf booklet from hyperion-records.co.uk). Typically, Hyperion included music by several little-known composers on that earlier recording, and the new Esquivel continues that tradition by including the motet by Ceballos on which the Mass is based. Most recently their willingness to offer us worthwhile music by neglected composers bore fruit in their fine recording of music by Hellinck and Lupi (CDA68304). And, though the music is from a different era, I enjoyed Hyperion’s release of Litolff’s two little-peformed piano trios and his violin sonata (CDA68305).
My only reservation about the Hellinck and Lupi recording was some lack of clarity in the diction, which shouldn’t hold back prospective buyers. Similarly, though the Holy Week recording may seem a trifle lacking in the passion with which that momentous time was celebrated in Spain, Portugal and Italy, it remains a very worthwhile album, and it’s a shame to see it relegated to the Archive. Fear not, however; it remains available as a download, complete with booklet. (See above).
Two other recordings by De Profundis are advertised in the new booklet: I thought highly of their recording of Vivanco, directed by Robert Hollingworth (CDA68257), as also Ribera’s Magnificats and motets directed by David Skinner (CDA68141). Now, with a third director, they turn their attention to another Iberian composer of the renaissance period who has languished under the shadow of the better-known Golden Age masters. Much as I love the music of Morales, Guerrero and Victoria, especially the latter, whose work I sometimes think preferable even to Palestrina, it’s very good also to hear the unfamiliar.
Part of the neglect in Esquivel’s case has been due to the fact that it was not until comparatively recently that the great bulk of his music was discovered. A massive collection, dated 1613, had been hidden at the time of the Spanish civil war.
The opening Regina cæli is a setting of one of the four antiphons to the Virgin Mary, which vary according to the season. The rest of the music on the new recording is dominated by Esquivel’s Mass based on Rodrigo de Ceballos’ setting of a text from the Song of Songs—A garden enclosed is my sister, my bride. The concept of the enclosed or walled garden had been central to medieval iconography in both secular and sacred contexts, from the Garden of the Rose in the courtly love poem Le Roman de la Rose to poems in praise of the Virgin Mary. The two are often difficult to differentiate.
It’s always helpful, though not strictly necessary, to have the underlying tune before the Mass based on it, as is done on this recording. The Mass itself is punctuated by other settings, though these are not intended to represent a liturgical reconstruction. Thus, between the Gloria and Credo we have the Advent Vespers antiphon Veni, Domine. And instead of the Offertory, the Benedictus antiphon for Corpus Christi, Ego sum panis vitis—at least, with its reference to Christ’s body as living bread, that’s not inappropriate in this eucharistic context.
Rather unusually, Esquivel sets the closing dismissal, Ite missa est, normally chanted, to which De Profundis add the congregational response Deo gracias.
The rest of the programme contains music for the evening services of Vespers and Compline. All in all, it makes for a very satisfying sampler of a composer from whom I hope to hear much more. All the performances are well up to the standard that we have come to expect from De Profundis, ably directed by Eamonn Dougan, a distinguished baritone and assistant director of The Sixteen, whom he has directed to excellent effect on some of their recordings, as, for example, on Pękiel’s Missa Concertata, which I thought ‘well worth your acquaintance’.
Neither Pękiel nor Esquivel is ever likely to displace the likes of Victoria, Palestrina, Tallis or Byrd in the general estimation, but both are well worth getting to know under Dougan’s direction, even if the music or the performance—or both—fails slightly to reach the heights and plumb the depths that one associates with Iberian music of this period. In the quieter, more reflective music such as the Alma Redemptoris Mater (track 11) I have no reservations at all.
I seem to be becoming more critical of recordings where the diction is not totally clear. It may be a new obsession of mine, but that was my one reservation about the Hellinck and Lupi recording from the Brabant Ensemble, mentioned above. It didn’t mar my enjoyment of that recording, and it hasn’t marred my appreciation of the Esquivel. In some places, such as those alternating parts of the Magnificat (tr.12) where smaller forces are involved, the diction is perfectly clear.
Now let’s have more of Esquivel’s music and more from De Profundis and Eamonn Dougan, together or separately.