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New World Symphonies
ANON ‘Hanaq pachap kusikuynin; Qhapaq eterno Dios;
Juan PADILLA (1590-1664) Missa Ego flos campi;
Gaspar FERNANDES (1570-1629) Xicochi conetzintle;
Juan de ARAUJO (1648-1712) Los coflades de la estlaya; Ut queaent laxis;
Alonso LOBO (c.1555-1617) Versa est in luctum;
Hernando FRANCO (1532-1585) Salve Regina;
Domenico ZIPOLI (1668-1726) Kyrie and Gloria from Missa San Ignacio;
Juan de ZESPEDES (1619-1678)
Convidando esta la noche
Ex Cathedra/Geoffrey Skidmore
Recorded All Saint’s Tooting, October 2002
HYPERION CDA 67380 [69.40]


When this CD first plopped onto my doormat I thought that it was a disc of baroque symphonies by mediocre and obscure Latin American composers. Once unwrapped I realized how wrong I had been, for this disc is of music from the early 16th to the mid 18th centuries, and ‘symphonies’ here means a sounding together of instruments of a wide variety with or without voices.

The fact that the eight-part Mass by Padilla is divided up across the disc has already been commented on elsewhere. It takes only a little track programming to have the tracks play in the correct order and without interruption. It’s worth doing and it’s worth comparing the performance, if you can, with that by The Harp Consort under Andrew Lawrence-King on a recent disc ‘Missa Mexicana’ (Harmonia Mundi 907293) where it is also spread around the CD. Although recorded in a large French Abbey (Saint Michel-en-Thierache) it is intimate and closely miked. The building is not a noticeable feature. Also the Harp Consort is one-per-part whereas Ex Cathedra is a fairly large choir of something approaching thirty. This means that Skidmore is a little more expansive but not less incisive. The continuo used by Skidmore is roughly similar to that used by Lawrence-King that is harp, guitar, theorbo etc., but Skidmore using larger forces has the brass playing throughout. Lawrence-King adds sackbut and cornet ensemble at certain climatic points. This is double choir music at its finest. Particularly arresting is the Credo with choir 1 singing through the text quickly and choir 2 punctuating each line with an additional ‘Credo’ (I believe) cadence. The Mass is a mixture of lively syncopated rhythms and flowing text book polyphony.

Another piece shared by these two CDs, and which ends each, is ‘Convidando esta la noche’. This is a Christmas Carol marked by a rhythm of six quavers followed by three crotchets as used by Bernstein in ‘America’. Skidmore comments in his notes that this brief piece is a synthesis of "homophonic ‘European’ sections and the exuberant cross-rhythms of African dance". The hymn-like opening stanza contrasts with the rhythmic excitement of the next section. The Harp Consort does not alter the tempo or style during the piece. Nevertheless both versions are great fun and everyone gets quite carried away.

Another highlight of this new disc is the very moving setting by Hernando Franco of the ‘Salve Regina’. Again there is a comparative version worth mentioning; that by Westminster Cathedral Choir directed in 1989 by James O’Donnell (Mexican Polyphony Hyperion CDA 66330). This version is all male, the boys sounding superb and unaccompanied throughout. Skidmore, who adds over one minute onto its length, opts for a grander version. In this instrumental doublings and solo sections constantly evolve the textures. I would like to tell you how. The section ‘Vita dulcendo’ begins after the opening plainchant with voices and brass. This is an alternatum version with plainsong verses. For ‘Ad te clamamus’ we have women’s voices accompanied by the lower brass which also started the verse instead of men. There is some eloquent cornet playing here and all is quite ravishing. Beginning ‘Et Jesum, benedictum’ we have four solo a capella voices. Finally for ‘O dulcis, O pia’ we revert to voices and brass doubling. A wonderful climax is achieved at the final A-men.

Another even greater work on this CD is Alonso Lobo’s Lament on the death of Philip II, ‘Versa est in luctum’. There are several versions of this expressive work in the catalogue, but I have always regarded Westminster Choir’s version under David Hill from 1985 (Treasures of the Spanish Renaissance’ Hyperion CDA 66168) as being about the best but now I change my mind. Skidmore is quite right to move the music along more than Hill. He makes more dynamic contrasts and each line is shaped in a way I‘ve not heard before. Quite wonderful.

If these three pieces are not enough then I will quickly add that the disc contains three religious songs in the Aztec language known as ‘Quechua’, one with a vicious and foot-tapping bass drum beat. The disc contains a very tuneful and rococo Kyrie and Gloria from a Mass by Domenico Zipoli with pleasing syncopations and catchy rhythms. So the disc can quite legitimately be subtitled ‘From Araujo to Zipoli - an A to Z of Latin American Music’.

Recording excellent with the acoustic of All Saint’s Tooting playing its part. The notes are fascinating; pity there weren’t even more of them.

Gary Higginson


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