Luys de Narváez: Musica del Delphin (ECM New Series 1958)


Luys de Narváez
Musica del Delphin

Pablo Márquez guitar
Recorded April 2006, Kulturbühne AmBach, Götzis
Engineer: Markus Heiland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

That which is created
Is founded on music,
And the things that are created
Are all the more excellent
In that they are different
And that they are proportionate.

Luys de de Narváez’s seminal 16th-century Los seis libros del Delphin de música de cifra para tañer vihuela (Six books for the Dauphin, consisting of notated music for playing the vihuela) receives an introspective treatment via the fingers of Argentine guitarist Pablo Márquez. A student of bandoneón master Dino Saluzzi, Márquez indeed brings out a sustained quality to his notecraft, the subtlety of which will likely be lost in casual listening. While this disc will surely fulfill a certain function as the background to a dinner party, its greatest compliments are sure to reveal themselves only through personal attention. Though written for the 12-stringed vihuela, the music of Luys de Narváez translates beautifully to the guitar. Márquez’s fluid changes and attention to leading lines (something of a challenge in such repertoire) offer a wealth of listening pleasures for veterans and newcomers alike.

The six books—from which we get only a disc’s worth of selections—are significant for their arrangements of contemporaries Josquin and Gombert, as well as for containing what Narváez called Diferencias, regarded as the first sets of musical variations ever to be printed in Europe. Our biographical knowledge of their composer is as sketchy as their melodies are robust.

Anyone worth his or her arpeggios can muscle through the faster movements, but it is in the tenderest passages where Márquez displays his finest technique. The Diferencias sobre el himno O Gloriosa Domina (Libro IV, 1) is especially enchanting, drawing every line with vocal profundity, and is but one of many individual moments I might choose. Yet I believe these pieces are best taken as a whole. To be sure, they are substantial airs, but each fits into an architecture that is beyond its own time. Their atmosphere is antique yet vital in the hands of Márquez and ECM’s production team. There is a silent repose to be found in the heart that beats within them. It is the comfort of the predictable contrasted with those learning moments of unexpected departure.

In listening to this disc again as I write these words, I imagine not the solo player, but a modest gathering of friends and acquaintances sharing in an alluring complexity. The well-balanced recording merely underscores this mood, close enough as it is to hear the instrument’s finer nuances while distant enough to allow fuller grasp of its gestural parameters. This isn’t music with a moral or even aesthetic message. It breathes, like its performer, between notes, as preparation for the audible utterance that comes from the darkness of anticipation. The music drops with the regularity of water off the tip of a storm-drenched leaf. Like the leaf, it bobs with every release.

A delightful album conducive to relaxing on a quiet afternoon, all the while underscoring our privilege to do so.

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