English lutenist and singer Shirley Rumsey earned high marks, both critically and artistically, for Music of the Italian Renaissance, her debut on Naxos. Rumsey's second go-round with Naxos was Music of the Spanish Renaissance, recorded in 1991. It pulls together some of the "hits" common during the second phase of the Iberian inquisition, a mixture of fantasias, instrumental dances, and songs. In the course of the album, Rumsey utilizes two different vihuelas, a lute, a Spanish guitar, and her voice.
Sprinkled throughout the program one will find such "usual suspect" Spanish lute and vihuela composers Luis Milán, Miguel de Fuenllana, and Alonzo Mudarra, but in no more relief than more obscure and intriguing figures such as Esteban Daza, a latecomer to this genre; enthusiastic amateur Diego Pisador; and the little-known, but eccentrically original Enriquez de Valderrábano. Anonymous pieces make up the rest, including several songs drawn from the Cançoner del duc de Calàbria and a couple of manuscript items found in the Archivo General de Simancas. The selection taken from the Cançoner is of added significance, as Spanish song in the mid-sixteenth century, with its emphasis on the vocal line, would have an impact upon the Italian Baroque to emerge five decades later. In the instrumental pieces, the melody line is often buried in the middle of the intabulations, and sometimes it is impossible to match the tune to the words, even though they often appear in red ink above the staff. By bringing the intabulated material into the same context as the vocal canciones, Rumsey draws a valuable parallel between the two.
Rumsey is an excellent lutenist, and her singing voice is pleasant, though very pure and "white." Rumsey's interpretation of this material is lacking in the sanguine and saucy aspects of Spanish Renaissance music. Nevertheless, this is not wholly Rumsey's fault; recorded at St. Andrew's in Toddington, the recording is a bit too distant and reverberant. What a disappointment it must be to learn how to roll a perfect "r," as Rumsey does in Fa-la-la-lan-le-ra, only to have it swallowed by the ambience of the room. As a general introduction to the music of this difficult to grasp end of the Western repertoire, Music of the Spanish Renaissance serves the purpose quite well, and the performances are enjoyable and solidly grounded, if not emotionally involving.