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The early 17th century was marked by some of the most important publications of keyboard music in Europe: England – Byrd, Bull and Gibbons’s Parthenia (1612); France – Titelouze’s Hymnes de l’Eglise (1623); Germany – Samuel Scheidt’s Tabulatura Nova (1624); and Spain – Correa de Arauxo’s Libro de tientos y discursos de musica practica y theorica de organo intitulado Facultad Organica (1626). Over the period of 1997- 2014, Robert Bates has recorded Correa’s complete Facultad Organica (‘Art of Organ Playing’) on three historic Mexican organs and two modern Spanish-style instruments in California. This is the first time that Correa’s Facultad (his only extant music) has been recorded in its entirety, and the extensive booklet notes reveal some of the considerable pragmatic difficulties that had to be surmounted (the playing condition of the historic organs, Mexican traffic noise, barking dogs, local ‘church watchers’, immigration and customs, and so forth). These alone make this recording a significant achievement.

Correa spent most of his professional life as organist at San Salvador, Seville. His Facultad Organica contains 69 pieces, which he graded according to technical difficulty: Tientos for undivided stops on tones 1 to 12, easier Tientos for undivided stops on various tones, Tientos for half stops (medio registro), Tientos in 5 parts, Tientos in demisemiquaver movement, pieces in triple time, an ornamented chanson and three plainchant settings. Of particular value is Correa’s explanations added to individual pieces, as well as his introduction to the entire collection.

The organs are one-manual instruments with divided stops with wonderfully bold, colourful sounds and tuned in meantone temperament. In his notes, Bates compares Correa’s music with El Greco’s paintings in being fundamentally renaissance in style, but shot through with elongated twisting melodies, harsh dissonances, complex rhythms and extreme contrasts of note values. The playing is based on research into contemporary performance practices – ornamentation, fingering and registration – but Bates is disarmingly modest about his achievement. The recording, he states, ‘represents only one step in the rediscovery of Correa’s manner of performance.’

These recordings are about as far from conventional English organ culture as possible. Both the music and the instruments are a time-machine that transports us back to the early 17th century. Study of the music and these recordings will enable organists and scholars to better understand Spanish renaissance music and the organ culture prevalent in the Iberian peninsula and central America. Bates and his team are to be congratulated on this monumental achievement.

DAVID PONSFORD Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Choir & Organ, 2019 - ©Rhinegold Publishing