Retrieving music that has been gathering dust for too long is always in itself a reason to rejoice. To its credit, the current season of the National Centre for the Dissemination of Music (CNDM in its Spanish acronym) includes a number of concerts with an important musicological research component. The one presented tonight was one of them.

© Christa Cowrie
© Christa Cowrie

The programme focused on two Spanish composers who migrated to the Americas: Tomás de Torrejón y Velasco and Antonio de Salazar. The former was chapel master at the Cathedral of Lima for over half a century. The latter held an analogous post in the Mexican town of Puebla, and was later promoted to work in the capital’s cathedral. Both were contemporary figures of the Spanish Baroque, and it seems only appropriate to intertwine them in a single programme. Bringing it to life was La Grande Chapelle, an ensemble specialised in performing early vocal Spanish music. Founded by Catalan musicologist, composer and conductor Ángel Recasens, himself keen to be remembered as a chapel master, it was his son Albert who took over when his father passed away, leading the ensemble from 2007 up to this day. The reputation La Grande Chapelle has as a musical gold seeker is underpinned by a series of albums for the Lauda label, many of which have received critical acclaim.

With such a reputation, the expectations were no doubt high. And sadly they were not entirely met – at least not from my point of view; a largely delighted audience clearly thought otherwise.

The music that La Grande Chapelle chose to perform is treacherous. Likeable and easy to listen to, its simplicity is highly deceitful. It requires relentless and thoughtful rehearsing, which was clearly missing for some of the pieces. The number of mishaps was not unsubstantial – wrong entries, false notes, conflict over tempi among the artists being quite literally played out before our eyes. All were uncomfortably glued to the scores, as if looking elsewhere even for a split second would have detrimental consequences. It felt as if a major disaster could happen any minute.

It did not. Yet, disappointingly, what we got was a glimpse of what we could have heard. Some great moments were testament to this, but they were not sustained through time. The last couple of pieces in particular, “Desvelado sueño mío” and “Atención”, showed us what a great ensemble La Grande Chapelle can be: two very different pieces, and both performed with the right spirit, energy and sense of storytelling. It was as if there was a sense of relief that the concert was coming to an end and they finally relaxed and dived into the music. What they did prove with this is that they are perfectly capable of building a balanced ensemble – a tricky task, given the noticeable differences between voices in volume, range and sonority. Furthermore, they are in fact much more interesting when performing as a whole ensemble than when doing solo parts, as those inequalities stand out more then.

There might be many reasons why this concert did not meet the level expected from a reputable ensemble such as La Grande Chapelle. There may be several factors at play, many of which have not emerged. It may have been a particularly rough night. But what La Grande Chapelle offered met neither the standard of a hall like the Madrid Auditorium, nor its own. They bear much responsibility as one of the few ensembles working hard to recover long-forgotten Spanish music, a commendable work to be grateful for, and one that needs to be matched with impeccable performance.

**111