Exaudi Nos

Francesc Valls: Salms; Missa quarti toni; Missa primi toni

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Francesc (or Francisco) Valls was a major figure in the Spanish Baroque who is nevertheless only known by one work, the Missa "Scala Aretina," with its notorious unprepared ninth in the "Gloria," a subject of musical controversy throughout Europe in the early eighteenth century. Valls' output is nonetheless very extensive, consisting of more than 600 extant works, and there is every reason to desire the extension of his recorded catalog beyond what little has been offered heretofore. The Barcelona-based period music ensemble Exaudi, under the direction of its founder Joan Grimalt, serves up two previously unrecorded masses and three psalm settings to help expand our understanding of what Valls might be like beyond the Missa "Scala Aretina." While the effort is certainly appreciated, this Le mà de guido release is fraught with problems from the standpoint of both recording and performance. While nicely recorded in a superficial sense, there seems to be a vacuum of emptiness in the center of the audio spectrum, and indeed, it appears from the session photo included that the musicians are placed so far apart as to prevent a sense of ensemble blend. Singers are slow on the uptake; there are miscellaneous "clams" among the players, including a rare mistake in the theorbo part that disturbs completely the harmonic impact of one movement; and a single, hapless trumpet plays mostly out of tune. It doesn't sound like the sort of thing that could have been repaired with some judicious retakes -- clearly this group was not rehearsed well enough in the first place. This might have been a sufficient performance for your local music society or church choir; the average listener would not find this desirable to purchase in recorded form, as it is amateurish, underpowered, and somewhat flabby.

Nevertheless, Valls' music is very attractive and for those curious enough to move forward from the Missa "Scala Aretina" into other areas of his output, then Francesc Valls: Salms/Missas might prove an enticing proposition anyway. Others should steer clear of this and get to know the Missa "Scala Aretina" first and Gustav Leonhardt's performance with de Nederlandse Bachvereniging for Deutsche Harmonia Mundi is absolutely ideal for that.

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