Francisco Escudero: Illeta (Funeral Oratorio)
Ricardo Salaberria, Baritone; Coral Andra Mari; Bilbao Symphony Orchestra, Juan José Mena
NAXOS 8.557629 [CD]
The Basque region of Spain is known as a unique cultural enclave. Within its confines thrives a rich artistic heritage. Composer Francisco Escudero has become one of the most famous 20th century composers from the region. His avant-garde sound blends many eclectic styles with elements of traditional Basque music.
Escudero's funeral oratorio, Illeta chronicles a town's communal grief over the loss of a loved one. The narrative poem by Xabier Lizardi, Biotzean min dut, translated as My Heart is Broken, is a brooding tale of three days of mourning stretching through a wake, funeral, and burial. Like a Baroque passion setting, a soloist and chorus take up dramatic roles as narrator and townspeople.
The rich baritone soloist, large orchestra and massed chorus create somber tones and jarring colors conveying a deep spirituality. Escudero employs many descriptive musical devices to portray immense sorrow. Tolling bells signal death, strident stings are the citizens' cries of grief, and the sweeping orchestra scales create gusting winter wind. Escudero's avant-garde pallet also brilliantly evokes atmospheres of desolation, despair and consolation.
The musical language incorporates many eclectic modern styles within the religious nature of traditional Basque music. Recurring throughout the work is a five note motive reminiscent of the Dies Irae chant. The final section of the work, the funeral, begins with an exact quote of the Requiem Aeternam chant of the Requiem mass. These examples reflect the influence of Gregorian chant and the foundation of religion in Basque music and culture.
Juan José Mena leads the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra and the Coral Andra Mari in a powerful performance. The orchestra color and tonal shading ranges from exquisite hollow piano shimmering to solemn percussion and brass led processions. The chorus and soloist sing their emotionally charged text with suitable drama. Their wailing high notes are wrenchingly sorrowful and their final words of sadness, "my heart is broken" are sung with an intense, quiet resignation. Baritone Ricardo Salaberria's dark warm color leads the chorus' heartfelt emotion. His superb strength and richness vividly narrate the events, despite the text being in Euskara.
This Naxos disc provides a wonderful glimpse into the insular Basque artistic oeuvre. Grounded in profound religious ideas, Francisco Escudero's Illeta is a stirring work of modern and traditional sounds. This recording powerfully portrays the depiction of an intense emotional ceremony in honor of a lost loved one.