The delicious voice of soprano María Luz Álvarez may in itself be enough reason to purchase this album for those who have encountered it before. It's a stunning instrument in small-group Baroque chamber music, with impressive control over both pitch and dynamics, all combined with a good deal of Spanish smoke. If that were not enough, Álvarez here takes up a repertoire that remains almost unknown outside of Iberia: the so-called tonada humana, which was the first generation of Spanish Baroque song to show Italian influence, departing from the strophic and semi-popular songs associated with the venerable zarzuela genre. The music here, by Sebastián Durón and a variety of still more obscure composers, is a gorgeous fusion of Spanish and Italian (although all of it is in the Spanish language). The songs, some of which may have been associated with stage presentations, are mostly divided into recitative and aria, but they are still strongly rhythmic and broken down into stanza-like repeated patterns that emphasize the frequently over-the-top quality of the texts. In short, they're a lot of fun, and the performances offer color and drive. The ensemble accompaniments furnished by Accentus Austria and its conductor Thomas Wimmer are modest in size but really contribute to the efforts of the vocalist. Several instrumental pieces are added for contrast; notable among these are the percussion-accompanied Canarios of Gaspar Sanz and the various pieces featuring the three-register Baroque double harp of Margret Knöll, a lovely, almost caressing sound. This is a top-notch Baroque release, beautifully illustrated. All texts are given in Spanish, English, German, French, and Italian, but the translations of the song texts follow one another rather than appearing in parallel columns.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim