This recording is a trip through Javier Bello-Portu’s choir work throughout his life. From his first, more academic religious works to the polyphonies about Unamuno’s poems.
The catalogue includes about fifty choir pieces, voice and piano arrangements, a ballet for large orchestra and different orchestrations of Basque artist’s works with great quality and refinement. Javier Bello-Portu moves from his youth religious repertoire to focus mainly on harmonisations and compositions based on Basque popular tunes and texts as well as on Spanish literary texts.
Most of these pieces were composed for the the “Escolanía Felipe Gorriti” a choir he founded in Tolosa, his hometown, in 1943. Although it was a mixed choir it was included in his concerts, especially at the beginning. The “Escolania Felipe Gorrti” was a great choir reference in the whole world due to its singing quality and it’s careful and innovative repertoire. Later, around 90-92, he wrote some pieces for the “Basque Country Choir” of Bayonne of which he was founder and conductor.
His work is very influenced by French impressionism including Father Donostia, who studied in Paris. These are composition of great harmonic and rhythmic richness and of an overwhelming delicacy. The application of instrumental resources to the voices is a great idea and provides some of his works with great expressivity. These pieces have an innovative nature. Texts are very important: they have been carefully chosen and adapted to the singing abilities. This is the reason of the unique quality and personality of the repertoire.
Finally I have to say that some of his works are in triptych as well as those of Ravel and Debussy. This is a worked and meditated decision. Some of them are: Pays Basque, Tres canciones nostálgicas, Un homenaje a Iparraguirre, Don Miguel de Unamuno: tres sonetos… Other works, however, although they were composed as a free pieces, finally they were also grouped as triptychs as for example Tres canciones alegres, Tríptico vasco o Tres canciones sentimentales, this changement happened around 2000 when he began to publish his choral work.
A more detailed study about the personality of composer and conductor Javier Bello-Portu, as well as of his particular work, will be soon available on his website: www.javierbelloportu.com
-Une vieille chanson dámour
-Donostiako damachoac (The ladies from San Sebastian)
-Buba ñiñaño (Berceuse)
-Lastosko Zubiya (Happy song)
-Chanson d´Amayur (Berceuse)
-Chori erresiñoula (Love song)
-Mendecoste phestetan (Song from Basse-Navarre)
-Adios ene maitia (Goodbye my love)
-A tribute to Iparraguirre
-D. Miguel de Unamuno trhree sonets
The atheist prayer
-In monte Oliveti (responsory)
-Chancho Malacasta (Carnival song)
-Ahaire zahar huntan (From Zuberoa)
Une vieille chanson d'amour
Tolosa, Février 1945.
This is the date Javier Bello- Portu wrote this, copied from one of the early 90s. There are two previous manuscripts dated June 17th 1944 of a first version then titled Argizagi ederra (beautiful star). An extraordinary arrangement of a very delicate Basque-French tune. Javier Bello-Portu just takes the tune and the first verse of 7 of the printed edition by Charles Bordes (Douze chansons amoureuses du Pays Basque Français). Is it just a coincidence that the famous singing quintet The king singers chose this very song among more than one thousand to perform when they participated in the 2003 choir competition of Tolosa.
Tres canciones alegres
Donostiaco damachoac (The ladies from San Sebastian)
Paris, le mercredi 21 Octobre 1992, 16h 50’
Donostiaco damachoac (or Donostiako hiru damatxo as it is known) was already a popular song in 1830 as J. Bello-Portu explains. The tune the artist chooses for this harmonization is the one the famous French violinist and teacher (the one who would be Pablo Sarasate’s teacher) compiled in his Recueuil de chants basques (printed by Pascal Lamazou). This version is slightly different from the most popular one we know today.
Buba ñiñaño. (berceuse)
For Alejandro Zabala, with my simple presence of bombastic affection San Francisco from California, December 31 1991. Paris-Iturpe 23 Juillet 1992 (Ste. Brigitte) 18 h. 10' (16h.10) Villa Iturpe. Chaleur! À l'interieur frais...! “To live a dream is not to kill life? Miguel de Unamuno.
Delicious abundance of harmony with the most impressionist style about a very simple children’s light-hearted song that was also harmonized, before, by Father Donostia for piano and voice and about which he said: a lullaby from Hasparren (Lapurdi) gathered by Mme. Espil (Set. 1922)
Lastosko zubiya (happy song)
Tolosa, 11th October 1946. (finished that day)
This festive popular tune which Jesús Guridi brought to the public in general as the 10th of his Ten Basque Melodies, is now presented by Bello-Portu written in 3/8 along with its short original text (a text that, as he quotes, don’t think anybody knows, nowadays) and almost as a theme with variations. Full of difference and rich in dynamics. Brilliant.
Chanson d'Amayur (berceuse)
Amayur’s Lullaby (Maya de Baztán) Tolosa March 7 and 8 1956.
Risky but always delicate proposal in which JBP applies instrumental resources and different rhythms to the voices. This is a popular children’s song collected by Father Donostia (number 11 in his songbook).
Chori erresiñoula (loveing song)
Before named Loving song or Chanson d’amour. It was written in Tolosa on September 15, 1955.10:21 p.m. (Although the maestro himself would later write in the copies of the last years that the song had been composed in 1952)
The author takes the tune and just the first of the four text written by Charles Bordes in his edition Douze chansons amoureuses du Pays Basque Français. Once again an arrangement of overwhelming harmonic subtlety inside an homophony to appreciate the text and the interesting 3/8-2/8 rhythm alternation.
Mendekoste phestetan (song from Basse Navarre)
September 21 1955. First day of autumn. Bello’s shop, in the afternoon. In later copies from the 90es JBP proposes two more dates of composition. November 1952 and then crossed out to correct November 1945. I clearly think it’s just a mistake of decade: 45 instead of 55.
This melody appears in the songbooks by J.D.J. Salaberry 1870 and by Father Donostia. The fantastic burlesque text within the song appears everywhere as a popular one. However it’s fair to say that it has a known author: Juan Etxamendi (brothel poet). He was born and died in the village of Valcarlos-Luzaide (1792-1879) and married to Jeanne Harriet, who came from Arneguy! as it was expected. Extraordinary choir arrangement, full of rhythm, sparkling harmony, energy and reminiscent of Dukas’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
Adios ene maitia (Goodbye my love)
Written in 1944. It was mentioned for the first time in a programme: Tolosa October 10 1944, Iparraguirre hall. It is a popular song from Soule (Zuberoa) a very old song also sang in bordering areas of The Bearne: Moncayolle, etc. (explains the author).
The harmonization is based on the tune, in the same way Salaberry, Ch. Bordes and father Donostia did. However JBP presents, in this composition of his youth, a very personal way of conducting the third voice. Although the author didn’t showed it on the score, we think it’s appropriate to add the popular song’s second lyrics, which the maestro himself would use later to compose his work Soule.
A tribute to Iparraguirre
Tolosa June 12 1953.
Harmonisations of original melodies by the great José María de Iparraguirre. In later copies it is written July 1951 as a date and in the centenary of José Mª de Iparraguirre’s death we can see June 12 1953. J.B.P. also harmonized the great juggler’s 4 melodies with texts for mixed voices: Ara nun diran, (Nere etorrera) Nere amac balequi, Agur Euskalerriari and Guernicaco Arbola. However only the first three ones will form this new triptych (Bayonne, Ville Maitena, le 7 Octobre 1976) that will take up the shape of a choir suite linking the three tunes with delightful passages. I transcribe here an enlightening text written by F. Arocena in his book Iparraguirre, with the occasion of the centenary of his death:
After being out for eighteen long years, Iparraguirre has returned to his country, for which he sighed during his long exile. Nere etorrera lur maiterá (sic.) is the enthusiastic greeting of one of the loving sons of the Basque Country and the reflection of the impression caused by the sight of the titanic mountains, beautiful valleys, the white picturesque farms, the clean fountains and the clear streams of the Basque land. The second song Nere amac baleque was written in Tolosa, remembering when the police imprisoned his mother due to the quarrels produced as a consequence of the performance of his anthem Guernicaco Arbola, true Basque Marseillaise that used to praise the crowd’s enthusiasm. He was considered dangerous not because of his ideas but because he knew how to lead the mass. After the prison period he was expelled from the Basque Country and he travelled across Santander, Asturias, Galicia and Portugal. He came back once forgiven but after a while voluntarily exiles himself to South America (first to Argentina and then to Uruguay). When he leaved, with his soul broken, he said goodbye to his country and to his mother, who was in Madrid, singing the song that after him, thousands of Basque people would sang in similar circumstances: Adio Euscal-erriari (zortziko 8/8)
Miguel de Unamuno three sonnets
The atheist prayer
Bruxelles and París, April 14 1996.
This work, ordered by the San Sebastian Music Fortnight was performed for the first time that very same year by the choir Hodeiertz from Tolosa conducted by E. Azurza. It was understood from it’s origins as a triptych. These three deep and complex sonnets by Unamuno with which the author felt especially connected (he used to recite these and other sonnets by Unamuno, by heart) are the base to capture what he had learned after years of working, and to create these three polyphonies of great heaviness but also of great beauty and perfection. Daring devices, parallelisms, chromatisms and great expressivity to accompany these also brilliant sonnets to became in my opinion is his pinnacle work.
Du Pays du Labourd, entre Ustaritz et Cambo!
Paris, samedi le 2 Mars 1991, Gris…!, frais…!
Javier Bello Portu uses here the text (just the first and the last of 6 verses) and the loving melody collected by Charles Bordes in his album Douze chansons Amoureuses du pays Basque français (1910). In a work list by the mixed choir Escolania Felipe Gorriti (1955) Nik badut maiteño bat appears as a work in production. However Javier Bello Portu only mentions the recent date in the score. It was probably a project materialized years later (36 exactly). Written in his most delicate work’s style with a suspending ending. Sonando sempre...says the score.
In monte Oliveti (responsory)
It also appears with the title Responsorio. It is dedicated in one of it’s first manuscript to D.E Mocoroa, with admiration and respect, Tolosa March 14 1944 and January 10 1949. In a copy of the 90es it is written 1953 as the composition date but it’s a mistake.
It was performed for the first time in the San Telmo Museum in San Sebastian on November 2 1944, the very same day of the presentation of the mixed choir Escolania F. Gorriti in the capital city, a year after it’s foundation. There also took place a conference by D. Jose Forns. It is a work of it’s youth, still linked to the romantic school. However, although in a restrained way, he begins to disassociate with expressive devices. The result is, in any case, excellent.
Tolosa 28 march 1947
A small work for three feminine voices that the author himself forgets to mention in the different work lists he later would make. He adds to the music Verbum caro, Tantum ergo and Genitore and for fonal Amen. A later indication says: two lyrics. That’s why we decided to perform it only with the first and second verse.
Chancho malacasta (Carnival song)
Paris, Decembre 1990. In another document it says: Performed for the first time Arbonne (France) 1991.
Carnival, Tolosa’s Carnival in this case, is a leitmotif in the work and life of the maestro Bello- Portu. This time with a piece, today forgotten has hi says. A very simple popular tune (note the resemblance with the children play song A la Kinkirriñera and many more) and a grotesque text, what could be better tools to recover the fun of carnivals: juxtaposed melodies and rhythms, screaming voices in happy chaos singing along the Emperor Street in Tolosa. Written with the usual skill, even more considering the year of it´s composition.
Written around 1942, as the author said when he was asked about it, for the choir of the French of Tolosa (Virgin Birth). There’s another version of the same work for mixed voices arranged around the sime period which, along with A mi flor and Carta al Rey would form the triptych Tres canciones nostálgicas (Three nostalgic songs). However the other two songs don’t have versions for equal voices. That’s why this A Belén is exempt. In both cases it came out from a popular text to which in later years he added a little verse composed by Javier Bello-Portu himself (Shepherds come…). A delicate harmony very wisely used. Typical JBP.
Tolosa. Anthem by José María Iparraguirre harmonized for 4 mixed voices with the occasion of its centenary. July 17th 1953. Tolosa.
This is another of this Works that JBP forgets to mention in the lists of his Works, although this song is categorized as being in preparation in the booklet brought out by the Escolanía F. Gorriti in its 10th anniversary then it wasn’t included in the tribute Triptych to Iparraguirre and it was forgotten. However, here is relieved… And for many years!
Ahaire zahar huntan (from Zuberoa!)
Toujours l'amour...! Paris, le 18 décembre 1991: dans l'après-midi. And he adds in another copy A popular song from Soule- already collected in 1875: it is sang in many little villages of the region: I heard the whole song in…(and they don’t mention it)
From the 8 verses that Salaberry points out in his songbook (the very same source the author takes) JBP only uses verses number 1, 6 and 8. The song is deliberately static homophonically and this gives the song a devastating nature and an extreme delicacy at the same time. For its simple form, although it’s performance has no simplicity at all, the value of the painful and wonderful text gets increased. It was written for the Choeur du Pays Basque. When he filled out the corresponding form in order to register the song in the SGAE (General society of Authors and Publishes from Spain), he didn’t mention when he performed it for the first time.
"Si en 1943 Bello Portu fundó la Escolanía Felipe Gorriti, agrupación mixta de referencia en el mundo coral dela época, aquí es el joven Grupo Vocal KEA, creado en 1997, el encargado de la interpretación, con un alto nivel de calidad y profesionalidad, garantizando así la continuidad de una tradición tan enraizada en el pueblo vasco"
(José Guerrero Martín SCHERZO diciembre 2008)
"Desde hace una década Kea ha demostrado ser uno de los mejores grupos españoles de su especialidad y en buena parte lo debe a su director y fundador Enrique Azurza. Su afinación, clara expresividad, matices y dinámica son verdaderamente admirables y en esta grabación hace plena justicia a la música de extraordinaria delicadeza y poético refinamiento de Javier Bello Portu. De cómo Enrique Azurza -autor tambien de las bien informadas notas del disco- se ocupa de dar una interpretación acorde con el texto, da idea su lectura del célebre zortziko Gernika´ko arbola, del que Bello Portu sólo armoniza la primera estrofa. Nada de exaltación, sino hondo sentimiento. "Musa de septentrion, melancolía" cantó Amós de Escalante. Pues eso"
(Andres Ruiz Tarazona DIVERDI)