Quink Vocal Ensemble – Juan Vazquez: Gentil senora mia: 16th-century songs and villancicos (2013)

Sacred music occupied an important role in 16th-century Spain, but there is much evidence that secular vocal polyphony held a place in society too. Such music is to be found in the little-known Juan Vázquez’s Recopilación which dates from around 1560; as well as canciones and sonetomadrigals, the collection includes various villancicos – the main focus of this recording – then a popular style of song and which Vázquez clearly overhauled through replacing endless repetition with melodic and rhythmic variety. That Vázquez’s contribution to the genre was both popular and significant (he wrote over 90 in total, most of which were set to texts by leading Spanish poets of the day) is demonstrated by the many later arrangements of his villancicos for vocal soloists with vihuela accompaniment.

Performing these highly engaging, deftly written works are the Dutch vocal group Quink, founded in 1978 and ranking among the world’s best a cappella ensembles. The recording, which can only serve to increase our appreciation for this largely-forgotten composer, underlines the group’s astonishing variety of tonal colour – of their Benjamin Britten CD, the New York Times drew attention to Quink’s ‘elegant phrasing, impeccable intonation and a purity of tone reminiscent of Renaissance madrigals.’

Juan Vazquez (c. 1510–c. 1560) is one of those composers known to us only through their music, and in the reflected light of a few documents. He appears in Badajoz Cathedral’s capitular acts of 1530, where his job is listed as teaching plainsong to choirboys. He shows up in the record books of the Archbishop of Toledo as a debit of 20 ducats, given to travel to the court in Madrid. His name doesn’t appear there as a chapel singer, but in 1545 we find him engaged as maestro de capilla at Badajoz Cathedral. The only surviving volume of his sacred work, an Agenda defunctorum , includes a preface where Vasquez calls himself a priest, and a native Badajozian. His final publication, from 1560, entitled Recopilacion de sonetos y villancicos , was a reprint compilation. It furnishes the selection of canciones and villancicos heard on this album.

These villancicos aren’t the simple, repetitive, folk-influenced ones that even Francisco Guerrero wrote. While the melodic shape and improvisational quality surrounding repeated verses suggests folk origins, these are sophisticated works filled with independent part-writing and imitative points. The model would appear to be French rather than Italian, given the clarity of Vazquez’s textures, despite the rapidity with which he tosses his themes about between voices. In the canciones , notably Hermosisima Maria , there are cadential phrases popular at the time among Dutch and North German masters. Since the Netherlands were still part of Hapsburg Spain at the time, and some Dutch and Flemish musicians are known to have traveled south to teach and perform, it’s just possible Vazquez was at least influenced by them. In any case, his music is unfailingly tuneful, yet sophisticated enough to attract for its learning and variational content.

In the Quink Ensemble, Vasquez finds an eloquent champion. The balance, clarity, precision, and beauty of the sound produced by these five musicians makes them one of the best current groups of their kind. Given music like this, the results are irresistible. I could wish for a longer disc, but at least with Brilliant Classics you aren’t paying top dollar. Strongly recommended.

Review by Barry Brenesal, Fanfare

The villancico often appears in concert programmes and on discs devoted to Spanish music of the renaissance and baroque periods. It is a typical Spanish form which has a mostly spiritual content, but whose musical character is strongly rooted in popular music. The compositions by Juan Vázquez which are presented here are rather different. They belong to the early stages in the development of the villancico. Apart from villancicos we hear madrigals and canciones. They are different in form, but are similar in content.

Juan Vázquez was born in Badajoz; his name appears for the first time in the records of the Cathedral of Plasencia in 1511 where he sang as a contralto. Later on he worked as a singer in Badajoz Cathedral where he also acted as teacher of plainchant. In 1539 he was a singer in Palencia Cathedral and two years later moved to Madrid where he entered the service of the Archbishop of Toledo. In 1545 he returned to Badajoz as maestro de capilla and in 1551 he moved to Seville in the service of a nobleman. Here he remained until his death.

Only one sacred composition from his pen has been preserved. All the others fall into the category of secular music: villancicos and canciones. These are mostly settings of poems by some of the leading Spanish poets of his time. They were quite popular as the large numbers of intabulations for the vihuela show. Many of them were also arranged for solo voice and vihuela. One of the features of the villancico is the repetition of lines. Vázquez reduces repetitions to refrains whereas in other places he opts for rhythmic and melodic variety.

Spanish music like this is often associated with lively rhythms and performances with instruments, including percussion. Don’t expect anything of this kind here. In content and character these pieces are more like the Italian madrigals of the early 16th century. They are strictly polyphonic, and although there are passages where the text is depicted in the music the connection between the two is mostly rather loose. ¡A, hermosa, Abrime, cara de rosa! has the character of a dialogue, but there are no real ‘roles’ – only some lines are for a solo voice. The texts are all secular, but at least the words of Hermoniosíssima María which opens the disc could probably also be interpreted as a song for the Virgin Mary.

I can’t remember ever having heard these pieces – or others from Vázquez’ pen – before, and the introduction to this repertoire by Quink is a most pleasant one. The music is really beautiful and well worth being explored. It is regrettable that the playing time is so short. I wouldn’t mind listening for another ten or twenty minutes. That is also due to the fine singing of the ensemble. Every voice is perfectly suited to this music, and they blend wonderfully. The lines are beautifully shaped and thanks to the great transparency of sound every one of them can be heard. Add to that a perfect intonation and delivery and one can conclude that this disc is a little gem. I can’t think of a better case for Vázquez’ oeuvre.

Review by Johan van Veen, MusicWeb-International.com


01. Hermosissima Maria (03:21)
02. Gentil senora mia (03:24)
03. Gracias al cielo doy (03:10)
04. No pense qu’entre pastores (02:45)
05. Quien amores tiene, como duerme? (02:22)
06. Si n’os uviera mirado (02:05)
07. Con que la lavare? (03:48)
08. Por una vez que mis ojos alce (02:32)
09. Serrana, donde dormistes? (02:22)
10. O dulce contemplacion! (02:30)
11. A, hermosa, Abrime, cara de rosa (01:59)
12. Que sentis, coracon mio? (02:03)
13. Por mi vida, madre (02:02)
14. Del rosal sale la rosa (02:51)
15. Torna, Mingo, a namorarte! (02:12)
16. Morenica m’ era yo (01:21)
17. Que razon podeys tener…? (01:56)
18. Bendito sea el dia, punto y ora (04:06)
19. Amor, virtud y nobles pensamientos (03:40)
20. Dexa ya tu soledad (02:53)

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Quink Vocal Ensemble / Juan Vazquez – Songs and Villancicos

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Analyzed: Quink Vocal Ensemble / Juan Vazquez – Songs and Villancicos

DR Peak RMS Duration Track
DR12 -0.04 dB -16.42 dB 3:22 01-Hermosissima Maria
DR13 -0.01 dB -17.27 dB 3:25 02-Gentil senora mia
DR13 -2.09 dB -19.88 dB 3:11 03-Gracias al cielo doy
DR12 -0.15 dB -18.97 dB 2:46 04-No pense qu’entre pastores
DR13 -2.09 dB -20.56 dB 2:23 05-Quien amores tiene, como duerme?
DR12 -7.36 dB -23.68 dB 2:05 06-Si n’os uviera mirado
DR13 -6.81 dB -24.63 dB 3:48 07-Con que la lavare?
DR12 -8.09 dB -24.06 dB 2:32 08-Por una vez que mis ojos alce
DR12 -1.90 dB -19.86 dB 2:23 09-Serrana, donde dormistes?
DR13 -2.45 dB -22.38 dB 2:31 10-O dulce contemplacion!
DR11 -4.60 dB -20.72 dB 2:00 11-A, hermosa, Abrime, cara de rosa
DR14 -2.16 dB -20.75 dB 2:03 12-Que sentis, coracon mio?
DR11 -4.81 dB -21.23 dB 2:03 13-Por mi vida, madre
DR12 -0.15 dB -17.49 dB 2:52 14-Del rosal sale la rosa
DR12 -0.43 dB -18.41 dB 2:12 15-Torna, Mingo, a namorarte!
DR12 -3.45 dB -19.77 dB 1:21 16-Morenica m’ era yo
DR11 -0.05 dB -17.17 dB 1:57 17-Que razon podeys tener…?
DR12 -0.59 dB -17.79 dB 4:07 18-Bendito sea el dia, punto y ora
DR14 -1.79 dB -20.72 dB 3:41 19-Amor, virtud y nobles pensamientos
DR12 -5.45 dB -23.39 dB 2:54 20-Dexa ya tu soledad

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