Léon Berben

Joan Cabanilles: Tientos, Pasacalles y Gallardas

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Joan Cabanilles worked for most of his life in Valencia, whose magnficent cathedral was a reminder of that trading city's glorious past. Organist Léon Berben plays an organ not in that cathedral, but an instrument in Basque country from the middle of the eighteenth century. It's a magnificent choice, and this collection of Cabanilles organ pieces would be worth the money for the graphic design alone. Check the booklet cover reproduction of the screaming faces painted on some of the organ pipes, for a start. Annotator Miguel Bernal Ripoll, whose words appear in English, French, Spanish, and German, writes that "Cabanilles appears like a Janus-headed deity with one face turned toward the past and the other definitely towards the future." This is true only in the sense in which people used to regard Gesualdo's music as modern because it was frequently dissonant. In fact, if you can imagine Gesualdo as having lived in Spain and worked as an organist, you have an idea of what the music here sounds like: it is dense, richly murky, rather tortured, and yet with extreme contrasts and bright flashes of color. The Tiento XIV partit de mà dreta de clarins (track 12) is in a military style called battalha, with trumpets and martial arpeggios seemingly ringing out over the usual polyphonic texture. The "brass" stops of Berben's organ are spectacular, with the sudden contrasts they introduce into the music beautifully engineered throughout. This is an organ disc that will make even the casual listener sit up and take notice. Most of the music is designed with the genre names of Passacalle or Tiento; the passacalles are basically the passacaglias of Baroque keyboard tradition, interpreted by Cabanilles for maximum chromaticism, but the tientos are harder to pin down; the word denotes the presence of imitative polyphony, but not much more than that, and the sizable pieces recorded here have an absorbing free-fantasy quality. Suffice it to say that the general listener interested in learning more about Spanish music of the late Baroque will find this a very satisfying package, inside and out.

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