Comes: O pretiosum

Music for the Blessed Sacrament
amystis, José Duce Chenoll
Brilliant Classics 95231

[dropcap]A[/dropcap] workmanlike issue of some fine and little-known music, including several recording “firsts”.

Juan Bautista Comes (1582-1643) spent most of his working life in Valencia, as the master of music at the Cathedral and assistant at El Patriarca, the Corpus Christi School and Chapel. His music provides a fascinating link between the Spanish late Renaissance style of Vivanco or Guerrero and the distinctive Baroque of Valls or Cabanilles.

The Blessed Sacrament was particularly venerated in Valencia at this time, and the music recorded here reflects this, with both Latin motets and vernacular villancicos celebrating the Eucharist, in double- and triple-choir music of great stateliness and splendour.

The opening (and eponymous) ‘O Pretiosum’, for eight voices gives a good idea of Comes’ style – I particularly enjoyed the luscious rising chromatic phrases on ‘Pretiosus’ and the extended and satisfyingly contrapuntal final ‘Verus Deus’. The next motet, ‘Quid hoc Sacramento Mirabilius’ also concludes in fine style with a splendidly complex final ‘integer perseverat’, the rigorously worked counterpoint pushing the music firmly into some daringly Baroque harmonies.

Several of the villancicos add lively rhythmic spice to the rich contrapuntal brew – with exciting calls of ‘Basta, Basta Senor’ in the refrain of track 10, ‘A la sombra estais’, for example. ‘Del cielo es esta pan’ (track 7) in contrast, is gentle and reflective, with its haunting concluding ‘dilin, dilin dilin repican’.

Amystis are worthy exponents of this glorious music, negotiating its considerable complexity with aplomb. The motets are accompanied by dulcian, harp and organ, with some discreet wind doubling. The instrumentalists are given more independence in the villancicos, with some vocal substitutions and improvised preludes and interludes.

The acoustic (of the Royal Monastery of San Michael of Lliria, Valencia) is a little dry, but allows the polyphony space to shine.

Alastair Harper

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