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Baroque music from Latin America – 3

Anonymous Hanacpachap cussicuinin, verses 1-5 (Ritual – 1631) [5:54]
Juan de ARAUJO (1648-1712) Dixit Dominus a 3 choros [9:09]; Silencio [5:58]; Dime, amor [5:38];ĦA, de la region de luces! [4:04]
Anonymous Hanacpachap cussicuinin, verses 6-10 [4:52]
Juan de ARAUJO ĦA, del cielo! [4:08]; ĦFuego de amor! [6:28]; En el muy gran Padre Ignacio [3:14]
Anonymous Hanacpachap cussicuinin, verses 11-15 [4:50]
Diego José de SALAZAR (c 1660–1709) ĦSalga el torillo hosquillo! [4:20]
Juan de ARAUJO Dios de amor [3:52];ĦA, del tiempo! [7:24]
Anonymous Hanacpachap cussicuinin, verses 16-20 [5:08]
Ex Cathedra Consort and Baroque Ensemble/Jeffrey Skidmore
rec. 25-27 June 2007,Church of St. Paul, New Southgate, London DDD
Texts and English translations included
HYPERION CDA67600 [75:35]
Experience Classicsonline

I have been awaiting this CD keenly ever since, almost exactly a year ago, I reviewed the concert on which it is based and which included all the music on this disc – and more besides.

As will be seen from the title of the collection, this is Ex Cathedra’s third voyage of discovery across the Atlantic to bring us another revelatory selection of music from the lands of the conquistadores. Previously they have given us New World Symphonies (see review), followed by Moon, sun and all things (see review). I’m happy to report that this latest cache of hitherto buried treasure is every bit as welcome and fascinating as its predecessors have been.

This latest collection differs from its predecessors in several important respects, however. The first two volumes were performed by the larger Ex Cathedra choir whereas here the elite fourteen-voice Consort does the honours. Another important distinction is that the two previous releases featured music by a variety of composers but on this occasion almost all the music is by one man, Juan de Araujo. Furthermore, whereas the previous collections featured repertoire that was, almost without exception, sacred, this time we are given a judicious blend of sacred and secular. Indeed, according to Jeffrey Skidmore’s informative and lively notes, despite the fact that he was a cathedral musician, much of Araujo’s output was secular.

Juan de Araujo was born in Spain but his family emigrated to Latin America while he was still a child, Skidmore tells us. He served as organist at Lima cathedral for a time and subsequently lived in Panama and Cuzco before he settled in the Bolivian city of La Plata (now Sucre) in 1680, remaining there for the rest of his life. Araujo moved to La Plata to become organist at the city’s cathedral and I assume that most of his sacred music was composed for use there. As is the case with much of the other music that Ex Cathedra have brought to life in their previous two CDs, Araujo’s music is a heady fusion of Iberian polyphony and native American influences. This mix is emphasised all the more through the colourful and imaginative way in which the music is performed here. According to Jeffrey Skidmore, the manuscripts that he has studied in the library at Sucre specify only organ harp and violin in the accompaniment. However, it is known that Araujo had other instruments available to him and so I assume that Skidmore’s decisions regarding instrumentation are based on very well informed conjecture. It seems to me that the scoring works splendidly throughout the programme.

The music has been shrewdly chosen so as to present a rounded and varied picture of Araujo and he stands revealed as a composer of no little substance. Some of the music is gentle, such as the exquisite lullaby Silencio and the delectable love song Dime, amor, which is sensuously sung. Incidentally, it’s a line from this piece that gives the disc its title. But Araujo’s music is certainly not all gentle. ĦA, de la region de luces! is a lively celebration of love, though the two verses of this piece are in a more courtly vein. A little later on we hear ĦA, del cielo!, which is infectiously vivacious. This is "popular" music, conveying a real sense of the fiesta, and Ex Cathedra deliver it with great verve.

At the other end of the spectrum is Araujo’s very fine setting of Dixit Dominus. This is scored for three choirs and it’s not to be confused with another setting by the same composer, which was included on the Moon, sun and all things programme. It’s a substantial setting and would have graced any European cathedral. Skidmore spices up some of the livelier stretches of music through the addition of some judicious but highly effective percussion. This happens, for example at the words "Tecum principium in die virtutis tuae" (‘Authority will be yours on the day of your strength’) and again, after a majestic, expansive doxology, at "Sicut erat in principium". In both cases, the percussion nicely emphasises Araujo’s dancing rhythms. Before leaving Araujo’s music I should also mention ĦA, del tiempo!, a piece that celebrates the birth of the Virgin in music that is as colourful as, in a fairly short span of time, it is varied. When I attended the concert that preceded this recording I wondered if it might have been a good idea to intersperse Araujo’s with more pieces by others. However, prospective purchasers of this CD should not be concerned about a preponderance of his music. It is sufficiently varied and interesting to merit some fifty minutes of listening.

We also hear a piece by Diego José de Salazar. His ĦSalga el torillo hosquillo!, inspired by bull fighting, was included on the Moon, sun and all things CD. However, collectors need not fear duplication. This is a different version, albeit the music is substantially the same. The version given here sets a different text, one in honour of the Virgin of Guadalupe. On this occasion the verses are sung by an alto soloist, the sultry-sounding Lucy Ballard, who sings most impressively. The verses are realitively gentle but the rest of the piece is earthy, exuberant and very exciting. I must say I find the version on Moon, sun and all things, which employs larger forces, even more thrilling but I can’t see anyone being disappointed by the performance here, which has plenty of panache.

The remainder of the programme is given over to the processional Hanacpachap cussicuinin. This piece has the distinction of being the first printed piece of Latin American polyphony, the source being a 1631 collection. It’s also notable for being in the vernacular, for it is in Quechua, the language of the Incas. It will be familiar to anyone who has invested in the earlier volumes. However, on previous occasions Ex Cathedra have offered only a selection of the twenty verses that comprise this haunting and impressive piece. Now they present what is believed to be the first-ever complete recording of the piece. It might be objected that twenty verses of the same music is a bit much. However, Skidmore and his team get away with it in two ways. In the first place they vary the scoring most imaginatively, so that every verse sounds different. Secondly, and crucially, they break up the piece into four sections, interspersed throughout the programme. Though I could detect no attempt to record it as a processional it’s still mightily impressive and the music exerts a cumulative power. The very last stanza is particularly richly scored in this realisation and it makes for an imposing conclusion.

This is a splendid disc and a very worthy successor to the preceding volumes. The standard of performance is unfailingly excellent. Ensemble work, both vocal and instrumental, is tight and the many vocal solos are all taken extremely well. The performances display flair and finesse on the part of all concerned Jeffrey Skidmore’s direction is perceptive, lively and, above all, persuasive.

It’s quite astonishing to think of this music being composed and performed in a remote colonial outpost in seventeenth century Latin America and the survival of the music and its revival today is something for which we should be grateful. Juan de Araujo was a fine composer and he has been exceptionally well served here by Jeffrey Skidmore and Ex Cathedra. This is a CD that commands attention.

John Quinn


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