Antonio de Cabezón has not been that well served by recording artists. Other than a few pieces in collections by e.g. F. Chapelet and M. Torrent, until a few months ago I only owned three exclusively Cabezón CDs, which are an organ CD (Valois) with Kimberly Marshall and the two CDs with ensemble arrangements by Savall (Virgin) and Ensemble Accentus (Naxos) respectively. I haven´t purchased the three Cabezón CDs with Uriol, because they are rather expensive and not the least because I own another CD with Iberian organ music by Uriol, which is utterly boring. But a few months ago I acquired Astronio´s complete Obras de Música (Brilliant), Wilson´s three CDs (Naxos), one harpsichord CD by Paola Erdas (Arcana) and one organ CD by Andrés Cea (Lindoro), and I have ordered but not yet received the three organ CDs by Uriol, on Don´s recommendation and the harpsichord CD by Baiano (Glossa) on the recommendation of Que, and the ensemble CD by Doulce Memoire (Ricercare).
Listening to the Brilliant set with Astronio I am struck by the strictness and severity of the playing. It seems very monochrome, the predominant color being black. Astronio may have felt likewise, since he uses a variety of keyboard instruments obviously for variety, and some of the pieces are arranged for small instrumental ensembles, but still the playing is very severe. The title of the work is Obras de Música para tecla, arpa y vihuela, but we hear neither harp nor vihuela, only keyboard instruments, winds and bowed strings. Wilsons three harpsichord CDs are played almost equally strict and severe, and seem even more so because of the use of only one harpsichord throughout. Surely both Astronio and Wilson demonstrate that Cabezón was a great master of counterpoint and imitation, but there isn´t much more in their playing. Marshall´s and Cea´s CDs are much in the same league, competent but rather strict and more reverential than severe. Paolo Erdas on the other hand is more free and adds more ornamentation, and even if I do not know, what Cabezón ´s performing style was like, Erda´s style makes more musical sense in my ears than the all too serious style of Astronio and Wilson. The ensemble CDs by Savall and Ensemble Accentus represent arrangements of keyboard music, and the general effect is much like ensemble arrangements of The Art of Fugue. From a superficial point of view the music is made more attractive and “charming” but its integrity is diminished. The sonically refined playing of Savall´s group is BTW captivating no matter which music they play, and the improvised and in my ears very stylish ornamentation and other additions by the Ensemble Accentus, particularly by the recorder player Michael Posch are very instructive. Except the CD by Paola Erdas I can not recommend the other completely without reservations. I have great expectations concerning the Baiano CD, as I think he has got lots of musical imagination (e,g, in his recordings of music by Frescobaldi, Froberger, Scarlatti).