John Collins - Organist, Harpsichordist Iberian Musicologist, Translator

Órgano de San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya.

Title:Órgano de San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya. Vol .I: Guy Bovet Vol IV: Luigi Fernando Tagliavini

Publisher:Instituto de Órganos Históricos de Oaxaca . TT 45: 19 and 58:51 respectively. Organ Historical Society at

Reviewed by John Collins

These two recordings are of live concerts given on the restored organ of San Jerónimo, Tlacochahuaya in the province of Oaxaca. Mexico. The church dates from 1558, with much later work incorporated as prosperity increased. The small one-manual organ underwent major modifications in 1735, its date of original construction, however, remains unknown. It probably ceased to function during the Mexican Revolution when pipes may well have been removed to be melted down for munitions, but in 1990-1 it was rebuilt by Susan Tattershall; since 2000 the Instituto de Órganos Históricos de Oaxaca has supervised its maintenance.

This instrument is based on a 4ft pitch with a 45-note compass from C-c3 with a short octave in the bass, and divided registers at middle C-C#, with the seven on the left hand side of the console being for the bass, the seven on the right-hand side being for the treble. The bass registers include a Bardón 8ft, Flautado Mayor 4ft (in the façade), An Octava 2ft, Quincena 1ft, Diez y novena 2/3, Veintidocena ½-Quincena 1ft (which breaks back) and a Bajoncillo, an interior reed of 4ft. The treble registers consist of a Bardón 8ft, Two Flautado Mayors , Two Octavas, a Docena 1 1/3 – 2 2/3 (which, like its bass equivalent, breaks back) and a horizontal reed Trompeta en batalla 8ft. There is also a toy stop entitled Pajaritos – which imitates the sound of little birds. The flues are bright and clearly voiced, their tonal quality being more than adequate to fill the church, the two reeds are brilliant and full bodied, perhaps a little more strident than those on many Spanish organs but in no way raucous or coarse. It is unusual for the Iberian organ not to have a full compass 8ft Trumpet (usually as an interior reed), but a 4ft reed in the bass was quite common. The highly ornate case is an example of Colonial craftsmanship, and the. The instrument is tuned to a=392Hz in ¼ comma meantone.

Guy Bovet played a Spanish programme centred around the three “Cs”, Cabezón, Correa and Cabanilles, opening with four pieces from the Obras de Musica compiled and published by Hernando de Cabezón in 1578. The first piece we hear is the four verses of the Fabordones on the 1st Tone, in which the chant is decorated in different voices in turn. This is followed by Hernando Cabezón’s setting of the chanson Doulce memoire, possibly intended as a tribute to his father; it is played quietly here. The diferencias sobre la Gallarda Milanesa follows, taken at a stately pace which works well, and the final work is the shorter of the two Tientos del quinto tono, the flue chorus allowing the counterpoint and the fluent passagework to be heard with great clarity. This piece is listed on the CD cover and in the booklet as being by Correa, a printing error which really ought to have been picked up!

Of the two pieces taken from the Facultad Orgánica published in 1626 by the mercurial Correa de Arauxo, we hear the Trompeta to great effect in the Tiento de dos tiples del Segundo tono which was written for five voices (three in the bass and two in the treble). The wonderfully interweaving treble voices carry over the supporting bass chorus, and the restless rhythmic changes offer a glimpse of this Sevillian’s skills, although Correa’s own notes on how to play triplet groups is ignored. The second piece is a Tiento del Quarto Tono for the full compass, this is played quietly, with the dissonant harmonies and suspensiosn not coming through quiet as clearly at this lower volume. The two pieces by Cabanilles include the Tocata de má esquerra in which we can hear the 4ft reed in the left hand rasping out the solo beneath a high pitched RH accompaniment, after which the 5 voice Passacalles on the 1st Tone is played with changing flue registrations as the variations develop. The final piece by a Spanish composer is the Fandango de España attributed to José Blasco de Nebra. Played here on the highest pitches available, which do take some straining to hear well, this piece is little more than a short improvisation on two chords of the popular dance, complete with rhythmic sound effects some way through!

Bovet’s recital concludes with an almost 10 minute improvisation on Oaxacan melodies taking up 20% of the time; this shows just why he is regarded as such a fine improviser, the charming folk melodies being treated to a complete range of variety in tempo and registration – particularly effective are the triplet and upbeat chordal passages on the reeds. The CD is certainly on the short side, and it would be good to have heard pieces by some other Spanish composers, perhaps from the 18th century, to show the development and changes in styles over the centuries. The added ornamentation is most tastefully played in good style.

The pieces played on vol. IV by the renowned Italian performer Luigi Fernando Tagliavini are mostly by Italian composers, with two pieces by Pablo Bruna, the blind composer from Daroca, north east Spain. The CD opens with three pieces from the Selva di varie compositioni of 1664 by Bernardo Storace, the clarity of the flue chorus illuminating the improvisatory nature of the first part of the Toccata e Canzona en sol, a quiet opening, gradual building and then returning to the quieter flues are used in the Partite sopra la Spagnoletta, after which the reeds are used to great effect in the incisively lively Ballo della battaglia. The flue chorus is again used to show off the rhapsodic nature of the short Toccata avanti la messa della Madonna from Frescobaldi’s Fiori Musicali of 1635, from which the Capriccio sopra la Girolmeta is also taken. Here the upperwork shimmers in the triple time section.

The two pieces by Pablo Bruna include the Tiento sobre la Letanía de la Virgen, a set of variations for two treble stops, played with a changing variety of flues throughout, and the Tento de medio registro de quinto Tono (NOT sexto tono as on the CD cover) in which the bass solo is also given to the flue chorus throughout the rhythmically changing sections, including the typical Iberian interplay between 3/2 and 6/4. We then hear seven pieces by Bernardo Pasquini, starting with the Toccata en re menor, the improvisatory opening showing the influence of Frescobaldi before the chorus is reduced for a fugal central section that concludes with a triple time variation, the short closing section with figuration against crotchet chords being played on the full chorus. The Pastorale which follows is again in several sections, in the opening one the phrases are played first on the Trompeta and then echoed on the flues. For the last few bars we hear the Pajaritos. Three very short arias follow, the second being a dotted-rhythm gigue, and the Pajaritos are used throughout the final one. The variations on the well-known Folia de España build in intensity, the final variations being taken from a different setting of the piece by Pasquini. The last piece by the Roman is a short sonata publiches originally ca 1697 in an anthology by Guilio Aresti, the short opening of RH figuration over a long held pedal point being playable by both hands without using the pedals. The following loosely fugal section is full of Corellian writing.

Two sonatas by Scarlatti follow, the quirky K77 in D minor is in two movements, each of which consists of only treble and bass, and may have been written originally for a violin and accompaniment, the repeats in the first movement are not observed here and the LH crotchets do sound louder than the treble in this recording in places, but the 2nd movement, a minuet in 3/8 is better balanced. K328, an andante in 6/8 in G has original indications for stopchanges which are well effected here; again the repeats are not observed. The CD concert concludes with three one-movement sonatas by the much travelled Domenico Cimarosa, better known today for his operas, but who did leave some 90 keyboard pieces in MSS. They are played on various flue combinations, the G minor and C minor being more reflective, the sonata in G making a fittingly joyful end to this selection of Italian music, which shows that much of the Italian repertoire sounds well on even the smaller Iberian style organs.

The booklet (which is basically identical in both discs) contains an account of the organ culture in the province of Oaxaca, a detailed account of this instrument and its registers, some splendid colour photos of the church’s paintings and decorations and of the organ, and a biography of the performers. However, there is no commentary at all on the music played, which, given the errors on the cover and booklet listing, is a most disappointing omission – very few players have a working knowledge of the Spanish repertoire, and some of the Italian composers whose pieces are played on vol. IV will certainly not be household names. That notwithstanding, the CDs are well produced, and even though they are both on the short side they are most definitely worth buying at the bargain prices, and enable us to hear an example of one the large number of organs from Mexico that have survived the ravages of time and been lovingly restored to their former glory. It is especially instructive to hear this music in a meantone tuning which would have been used at the time of its composition. These CDs show that the small number of registers and tonecolours need in no way be considered a disadvantage but in the hands of skilled performers can be utilised in a positive way (although in most cases assistants would have been necessary to add or subtract the stops) and can be recommended.

Back to Reviews

© John Collins 2013