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Dazzling performances by Yago Mahúgo, who also offers alternative versions accompanied by Pedro Estevan on castanets.  
Charles Cecil Roberts (1759-1799) was an English aristocrat and traveller who apparently arrived in Madrid for the first time to attend the wedding of the 5th Duke of Berwick, the very young Don Jacobo Fitz-James Stuart, held on 24 January 1790 in Madrid. He settled precisely in the Palace of the Duke of Berwick, today better known as the Palace of Liria (owned by the House of Alba), and therefore very close to the Monastery of Montserrat in Madrid, affectionately called Montserratico, where he personally met the monk Felipe Rodríguez (1760-1815), to whom Cantus already devoted a marvellous CD(C 9622: Rodríguez: Fortepiano works), born in Madrid but musically trained in the Monastery of Montserrat (Barcelona).

This area of Madrid is at short distance from the historic centre, and the accommodation offered to Roberts would allow him to be in direct contact with the court and to visit the city more anonymously. In addition, he could listen to excellent keyboard music in two religious institutions just a few metres from his residence: the aforementioned Montserratico, and the beautiful Church of the Comendadoras de Santiago, with its excellent organ built by Pedro Manuel Liborna Echeverría in 1725, which still conserves its bellows mechanism in perfect condition, without mechanical power supply. Roberts says of this church that it had "a beautiful organ which sounds very different from English instruments, something which is common here in all the churches and chapels I have visited". He is undoubtedly referring to the special characteristics of Iberian organs and more specifically those of the Liborna Echeverría family (master organ builders of Philip V), generally with one keyboard, an eight-foot base, short octave and the traditional Spanish split register.

We do not know whether Roberts became a very important figure in the circle of influence of the Madrid court, but it is clear that his high economic status placed him among the most exclusive companies, and of these the Duke of Berwick's was certainly not the least. In fact, the excellent painting of him in Rome by the well-known portraitist Pompeo Batoni in 1778 (on the cover of our disc) could still be found in the rooms of the Infante Don Carlos in the Royal Palace in Madrid as late as 1814. Incidentally, it has also recently been discovered, thanks to José María Luzón, former director of the Prado Museum, where the work is on display today, that this painting arrived in Spain in 1778, when the British frigate Westmorland, coming from Italy with an extraordinary cargo of works of art bought by Roberts himself and other nobles who had made the Grand Tour, was intercepted by French ships which in turn took it to the port of Malaga. Shortly afterwards, King Charles III decided to keep its precious contents, offering the staggering sum of 300,000 silver reales for it.

In any case, Roberts' importance for us comes from his notes on the keyboard music he heard in Madrid, and also from his detailed descriptions of his visits to the Church of the Comendadoras and especially to the Montserratico, where for some mornings he listened to "P. Rodrigues [sic], who is an excellent organ player and a musician capable of many subtleties".

Although we know that Charles Cecil Roberts went on to accumulate large quantities of scores purchased during his Grand Tour, and also subsequently, there are no examples in his surviving possessions of the Spanish keyboard music that impressed him in Madrid. But in the surviving fragments of his diary (his Quaderno de Liria) there are frequent admiring comments on the work of the three great 18th-century masters in Spain: Don Domingo Escarlata (Domenico Scarlatti), Padre Antonio Soler (from Montserrat, like Padre Rodríguez, who first brought the Catalan works to Roberts' attention) and Don Luis Boquerini (Luigi Boccherini). Although aesthetically Rodríguez and his work looked more towards Haydn's universe, and Roberts was pleased to hear the more classical Viennese-style music so favoured in Spain, whose structure, language and harmony were far removed from the Baroque style, in the private gatherings and chamber concerts of the Madrid nobility the music of earlier generations was still performed.

In a letter dated June 1794 Roberts announced his return to England, a fact perhaps related to the death of his friend and protector in Madrid shortly before, as the Duke of Berwick died on 3 April 1794.

Among Charles Cecil Roberts' favourites was Soler's Fandango (the final attribution of which is still contested today by many musicologists), a work that held a fascination and "indescribable joy" for him, and which was the first of the three fandangos proposed in the recording of this project that he came across. It was not through Padre Rodríguez, but through a harpsichordist and fortepianist close to Jacobo Fitz-James Stuart, called Antonio Calero, who played it with such "fire and precision" that Roberts considered that this music helped to "ward off evil omens, put light into darkness and turn water into wine". Yago Mahúgo presents us with a somewhat peculiar surprise in his version: he takes advantage of the "unresolved end" of the work to use a piece that is not directly connected to the Fandango, Prelude No. 1 from his theoretical work The Key of Modulation... but he places it as a postlude. The result is marvellous.

Similar miraculous characteristics he attributed to the Fandango by Don Domingo Escarlata, which he learned through Calero's son Juan Calero, and also to the other fandango that Luigi Boccherini composed as part of his Quintettino for two violins, viola and two cellos (op. 40 no. 2) in April 1788. Roberts heard it performed at a musical gathering in Liria almost five years later, in February 1793, in its original version. We present in this project the world's first recording of a transcription for solo harpsichord of this piece in imitation of the fandango che suona sulla chitarra in padre Basilio.

But man does not live by fandangos alone, and Roberts also has words of admiration for quieter works, all of them sonatas in the key of D minor, by the same three masters. Among them, the wonderful and melancholic Sonata 115 by Soler, which Rodríguez discovered for him played on the organ of the Montserratico, the sonatas K. 32 and K. 34 by Scarlatti, "noble and elegant", or the piercing Sonata K. 213 by the same Scarlatti, which the Calero family, father and son, had in their fortepiano repertoire. Our project of music for Spanish keyboard is completed with other more lively pieces, always in D minor, by Scarlatti and Soler themselves, which Roberts also comments on in his Quaderno.

As we can see, then, in addition to presenting, by the great Spanish harpsichordist and fortepianist Yago Mahúgo, the world's first recording of the transcription of Boccherini's Fandango for solo harpsichord, made by Mahúgo himself, our project proposes not only some of the favourite pieces included in Charles Cecil Roberts' Quaderno (a good example of how Spanish harpsichord music was perceived by foreigners) but in some cases offers "double" versions, in fortepiano and harpsichord, of some of these pieces, so that the listener can understand how the appearance of the fortepiano in the transitional world between baroque and classicism affected the interpretation of these masterpieces on each instrument: the secrets of phrasing, articulation, the character that each instrument allows to give to each work. It is, therefore, not only the opportunity to find the three great Fandangos of that time in a single recording (and Boccherini's, we insist, for the first time in its solo transcription), but also the pedagogical and musicological facet that animates our project, the elements that make it so remarkable. In the case of the fandangos, we offer their solo harpsichord versions on CD 1, on the one hand, and on CD 2 we have the participation of the extraordinary percussionist Pedro Estevan playing castanets in these three masterpieces, which thus acquire a new dimension, even more Spanish and traditional, thus increasing their colour and their strength and suggestiveness.

José Carlos Cabello


  • Yago Mahúgo, harpsichord and fortepiano.

    Harpsichord by Keith Hill after Taskin, 1769.

    Tuning: 415 Hz. Temperament: Valotti.

    Fortepiano by Keith Hill after Anton Walter, 1796.

    Tuning: 423 Hz. Temperament: Valotti.

    Pedro Estevan, castanets.

Aditional information

  • Total time CD 1: 50:30 - CD 2: 44:40

    Booklet liner notes by José Carlos Cabello.

    Recording Mirador de la Sierra (Madrid), January 2022

    Engineering, digital edition and mastering Iker Olabe (Phonoclassical)

    Producer Yago Mahúgo

    Executive producers Yago Mahúgo and José Carlos Cabello

    Design and editorial coordination José Carlos Cabello

    Cover Pompeo Batoni: portrait of Charles Cecil Roberts in Rome (1778). Museo del Prado (Madrid). All rights reserved

✋ Please adjust first the VOLUME control on the SPEAKER ⇓ before playing ▶

Soler: Fandango (Fragment, solo harpsichord)
Scarlatti, K. 32 (Solo fortepiano)
Boccherini: Fandango (Fragment, harpsichord and castanets)
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