Cifras Imaginarias

Música para tañer a dos vihuelas
Ariel Abramovich, Jacob Heringman
Arcana A 428
Cabezón, Crequillon, Josquin, da Milano, da Modena, Palero, Vasquez, Verdelot, Willaert & Cancionero de Uppsala

Ariel Abramovich and Jacob Heringman have joined forces to produce an interesting and varied anthology of music from the 15th and 16th centuries arranged by them for two vihuelas. Very little music survives for this combination – a mere 17 pieces arranged by Enríquez de Valderrábano for vihuelas tuned at the unison, or a minor third, a fourth, or a fifth apart – but, as John Griffiths argues in his liner notes, vihuelas were almost certainly played together in a variety of social contexts, and the present CD gives an idea of what this lost repertory may have been like. The players use two vihuelas by Martin Haycock, both tuned to g’, and they take it in turns to play a bass vihuela in d’ by Marcus Wesche. The word “Cifras” in the title, literally means “figures”, and refers to the numbers used in tablature, and by association tablature or music notated in tablature.

The first track, Josquin’s Illibata Dei Virgo nutrix, shows how the five voices are distributed between the two vihuelas: Abramovich (vihuela in g’) plays voices I and IV, while Heringman (vihuela in d’) plays voices II, III and V. This is similar to how Valdarrábano distributes voices, and it works well here. (Some other intabulators, for example Phalèse, arranging music for two lutes, have each lute doubling the bass, which creates a fuller texture, but loses clarity of line.) The first six bars are played by Abramovich alone, followed by Heringman alone for the next six. In bars 57-65 there is interplay between pairs of voices: short phrases of four, five and six notes for voices II and V on the bass vihuela, are echoed by similar phrases for voices I and IV on the other instrument. Having two vihuelas enables polyphonic lines to be preserved, for example, in bars 13-14, where voices IV and V cross over each other. If this passage were played on a single instrument, the two melodic lines would be reduced to a meaningless repetition of chords. Other pieces by Josquin are Dulces exuviae, Pater Noster, and Ave Maria, all timeless and sublime. I assume the divisions in these pieces are the players’ own, because they are idiomatic and tasteful, enhance the music, and help maintain forward movement; many 16th-century intabulations have an excess of divisions, which almost become an end in themselves. Although Antonio de Cabezón describes his keyboard music as being “obras de musica para tecla, arpa y vihuela”, it is impossible to play most of it on a single vihuela: the overall range is too wide, and having divisions for both hands on the keyboard creates technical problems for a vihuelist. However, it does fit remarkably well on two vihuelas tuned a fourth apart for Thomas Créquillon’s Un gay bergier, a “Pavana Italiana”, and Claudin de Sermisy’s Dont vient cela. There are two pieces attributed to Juan Vasquez. The first, Dizen a mi que los amores he, is the five-part setting from the Uppsala manuscript. It has quite a few false relations, including a particularly squelchy one at bar 22. The duo have concocted their own ending of fast chords, which I don’t think enhances the overall mood of the piece. The second is the well-known De los álamos vengo, madre, played with invigorating gusto. I enjoyed listening to the CD – they play well together, and capture a variety of moods. The only frustrating thing was trying to navigate my way through the CD on my computer – the track numbers and titles are given in some curious eastern alphabet which is totally incomprehensible to me.

Stewart McCoy

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