Josep Mir i Llusà: Missa in D Major, Stabat Mater, Quomodo Obscuratum Est, Lauda Jerusalem. Lluís Vilamajó (tenor, in Quomodo Obscuratum Est), Chorus La Xantria (choirmaster Pere Lluís Biosca), Vespres d’Arnadí, Dani Espasa (harpsichord and direction). Musièpoca MEPCD-004 (2011), barcode 8437010884030
Recorded 28-30 November & 1-2 December 2010, 26 January 2011 at the Municipal Auditorium of Vilafranca dei Penedès
Not inferior to the best works in the genre of Mozart and Haydn
18 March 2018
Never heard of Josep Mir i Llussà (c. 1700 – 1764), one among thousands of now completely forgotten composers from the baroque and classical era. Even the performers and label are obscure – they stem from Catalonia and that’s not part of the European mainstream. That CD is part of a big lot that I purchased on eBay, and that’s a place to take chances. Sometimes you lose, sometimes you win. This one is a winner.
Turns out Mir i Llussà must have been highly regarded in his lifetime and country, as he held important positions not only in Catalonia but also in New Castile (link will open new tab to entry on Wikipedia), including the Royal Monastery of La Encarnación in Madrid. His works were still played in the early 19th Century, 50 years after they were composed, and scores of his compositions are disseminated through Spain and even Latin America (Mexico and Lima). They are all in manuscript form: the music was written for practical purposes and, despite Scarlatti and Soler, Spain was apparently too remote a cultural center in Europe for Mir i Llussà to gain a widespread recognition and publication that would have ensured his survival in the eyes of posterity.
Yet the works gathered here show that, other perhaps than in the Stabat Mater (track 14), there was nothing “archaic”, remote or backward-looking in Llussà’s compositional outlook. If the Stabat Mater sounds like an exception, it is because it is the reworking by Llussà, for 8 parts, of an earlier work (in 4 parts) by another composer, Jose Martinez de Arce (1660-1721). As befits its subject, its mood is plangent and mournful. And mind you, that it harks back to the big polychoral works of Palestrina and Victoria doesn’t make it less beautiful.
The rest is magnificent. The Mass (tracks 1-13) dates from 1760, which makes it closer to Gossec and the early masses of Haydn than to the latter’s late and great ones or to Mozart. It is powerful, triumphant, but also brilliantly colorful in its orchestration (flutes and trumpets stand out). Arias are mellifluous and there’s great interplay between soloists and chorus. In contrast, some purely choral numbers are beautifully interior (Et Incarnatus and Crucifixus, in preparation for the jubilant Et Resurrexit and Sanctus) – here, the Et in Terra Pax from Vivaldi’s Gloria RV 589 may come to mind (not so much in style as in atmosphere). The Psalm Lauda Jerusalem, for double choir (concerto or soloists vs ripieno/full choir), undated, develops a highly dramatic atmosphere and Italianate style (track 20).
The Lamentation Quomodo obscurantem est for tenor and orchestra, from 1753, (tracks 15-19) may follow more ancient models and traditions (I’m not aware that Haydn or Mozart composed any such Lamentation), but stylistically it is again a superb piece, again colorfully orchestrated (felicitous concertante flutes in the first movement), its highlight being the 4th movement (track 18), with its accompaniment of oboe and string pizzicati, conjuring again memories of Vivaldi and Bach as well as Haydn and Mozart.
Incidentally, the particle “i” (usually found under the form “y”) in Mir i Llussà means “and”. See Wikipedia’s article “Spanish naming customs“: In the sixteenth century, the Spanish adopted the copulative conjunction y (“and”) to distinguish a person’s surnames” – you know, as in Francisco Goya y Lucientes, José Ortega y Grasset or Pablo Diego Ruiz y Picasso. The liner notes, when they contract Mir i Llussà’s name, call him “Mir”. As in Francesco Goya or Pablo Ruiz, the famous painters.
As far as I can judge without comparisons or scores, interpretations sound top-notch. I need to hear more Mir i Llussà. On the strength of this CD he could be as important a find as Zelenka. TT 59 minutes, informative liner notes, CD comes in gatefold sleeve.