Valls: Missa Regalis, etc

The Choir of Keble College, Oxford; Academy of Ancient Music/Matthew Martin, et al (AAM)

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CD_AAM008_Valls

Arauxo • Cabaniles • Valls
Valls: Missa Regalis; Arauxo: Tiento y discurso de segundo tono; Tiento de medio registro de tiple de septimo tono; Cabaniles: Tiento de falsas
Matthew Martin (organ); The Choir of Keble College, Oxford; Academy of Ancient Music/Matthew Martin
AAM Records AAM008   39:29 mins

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his is the very first recording of Francisco Valls’s Missa Regalis. Though the Spanish Baroque composer is now obscure, in 1715 Valls’s contrapuntal rule-breaking as Barcelona Cathedral’s precocious maestro de capilla sparked a massive row about proper sacred vocal writing, and Valls was accused of ‘destroying the very essence of music’.

Missa Regalis, which he composed in 1740, is one of Valls’s greatest works. Like one of JS Bach’s career-end masterpieces, it is a compendium of craft. Valls championed Palestrina-styled polyphony, but was no mere epigone. Continuo – wonderfully realised here by two players from the Academy of Ancient Music with Edward Higginbottom on organ – enriches a five-part vocal polyphony full of sudden twists: from tight imitation, to plush homophony, to lyrical solos. Mixing Renaissance with Baroque practices, Valls plays the magician with a six-note scalar head motif that he varies and combines to dazzling effect.

Elegant and fresh-voiced, the Keble College choristers sparkle throughout their reading of Valls’s dense score. Matthew Martin deploys the choir’s blend and disciplined ensemble to give bite to motivic entries and word-play. He sounds the super-lively Keble Chapel like an instrument, slowing tempos and artfully delaying vocal entries to give climaxes maximum space, and himself takes to the keyboard between movements to perform little-known Spanish organ toccatas (‘tientos’) by Arauxo and Cabanilles.

Altogether, this is a magnificent production of a regal mass.

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Berta Joncus