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Luis Antonio ESCOBAR (1925- 1993)
Canticas y Madrigales

Americas Vocal Ensemble/Nelly Vuksie
Recording venue not given. Recorded in 1982
4TAY 4024 [49.16]

This composer’s name is new to me. I am not particularly in touch with 20th Century Columbian composers. Obviously I should be as Escobar was an important and interesting figure.

This disc consists of twenty-seven unaccompanied vocal settings of Spanish and Columbian poetry some taking on a madrigalian, free and contrapuntal form and some the more traditional and slight stylized Cantigas pattern. The plan of the disc is as follows. First we have fourteen Canticas, each numbered but not in any particular order, and each dedicated to a different person whose background remains totally unknown to us. Most are anonymous but one text is given as by the Columbian poet Andres Holguin. Then come four madrigals with a text taken from the book 'And it was my heart' by the Columbian poet Jorge Rojas. Two more light if rather slow canticas follow and then two madrigal settings of Giovanni Quessop and four by Leon de Grieff, both Columbian poets. The final setting is also of Quessop.

The mood of several of the texts is sombre. It is also somewhat difficult to tell whether they are religious poems as they are addressed beyond human kind to a distant source which is never named. But that is not to say that they are a problem. The ambiguity aids the composer and for the listener allows a more general approach. Nevertheless the often rather dark mood and slow tempi can become oppressive when too many follow on from each other. This is the case with the madrigals.

The CD opens with another aspect of Escobar's style. This is the lively and syncopated Escobar; rather renaissance in influence. The opening Cantica 'Ma perdoana estas coplas' is not unlike Juan del Encina (c.1500) similarly track 6 'Me tope con una nina'

Several settings are rather hymn-like with plain harmonies; in fact I must say that sometimes they are so plain that it is very easy to forget that it is late 20th Century music and not mid-19th. One such example is to be found on track 4 'Dende aqui te estoy'. Track 9 presents the spiritual text 'La vida pasa pronto' in which life passes quickly like the waters of a river.

Sometimes the harmonies are quite the opposite, astringent with unpredictable and disconcerting rhythms as in the 'De tres amores' (tr. 7) which stands distinctly apart with its curious harmonies especially for verse 2. Nevertheless the overall ‘signature’ of the music is that of a sensitive composer. In this the composer is matched by the performers in this attractive and often lovely music.

The CD booklet has all the texts translated although the occasional verse is missing. There is a brief essay on the back of the booklet about the composer as well as 'Thoughts on Escobar' by Nelly and Cesar Vuksic. There are biographical notes on the Americas Vocal Ensemble and on their conductor Nelly Vuksic but nothing at all on the work recorded. Theirs however is an attractive set of voices and they are ideal for this music.

I must though comment on the recording. Originally the music came out on LP in 1982 and the CD has been made I assume from the taped originals. This has obviously faded a little over the twenty years because there is a considerable amount of tape hiss (listen to track 11). The sopranos are slightly distorted and the basses somewhat distant (this can also be heard in track 11). Especially with the earlier tracks there is quite a bit of pre-echo before and during each track.

Although the music is attractive and interesting and quite a curiosity I cannot recommend it for general listeners. It would however be just the right choice for anyone with a quest for the unusual.

Gary Higginson

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