Alonso Mudarra was a lutenist and composer active in Seville in the middle of the sixteenth century. The Tres Libros de Música from which the pieces heard on this disc are extracted come from the early years of music publishing in Spain, and they mix original compositions by Mudarra with vihuela intabulations of works by other composers. Both vocal and instrumental, the pieces recorded here offer a delightful variety; Mudarra seems to have tried simply to offer a cross-section or greatest hits of the musical world at the time in his publication. There are a few sacred pieces; Triste estava el rey David, track 5, is a setting of the biblical text recounting the sorrow of King David upon learning of the death of his son Absalon. This tragic work (curiously designated as a "romance," which seems here to mean a song that tells a story) rubs shoulders with examples of the reliably sexy villancico -- track 9, Gentil Cavallero, is an especially pungent one, with its image of the knight who picks lemons in the nuns' garden -- and other secular pieces, some of them in Italian. The instrumental works mostly consist of fantasias and tientos, the latter smaller in scale than the well-known examples of this prelude-like Spanish genre from the following century. All this is explained well in the booklet (in English, French, and German). What's not so clear is why the German-based group Private Musicke performs the music the way it did. Some of the pieces feature viols instead of vihuela or lute, which seems to run counter to the whole idea of recording an anthology of vihuela music. The voice of Spanish soprano Raquel Andueza, however, is a major attraction, light and coquettish in the villancicos but always hinting at the depths that are kept in reserve. She's reason enough to buy this album all by herself, and excellent, no-fuss sound and the fabulous El Greco portrait on the cover offer added bonuses. Even dedicated lovers of the Spanish Renaissance will find something new here, in many cases beautifully performed.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim