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Tambalagumba! - Early World Music in Latin America
Ensemble Villancico/Peter Pontvik
rec. Lãnna Church, Nortälje, Sweden, April 2014
For track-listing see below
CPO 777 811-2 [51.00]

You might well reckon that this repertoire, startlingly exciting, different, colourful and so out of keeping with the music of baroque Europe, was rare and needed to be searched out, but in the last decade or more several discs have appeared. Let me list a few: The Harp Consort in 2002 ‘Missa Mexicana’ (HMU 907293); The choir Ex Cathedra with ‘New World Symphonies’ (Hyperion CDA 67380), ‘Moon, sun and all things’ (Hyperion CDA 67524) and ‘Fire Burning in Snow’ (Hyperion CDA 67600). There is also a Ricercar disc called ‘Carmina Latina’ conducted by Garcia Alarcon (RIC 334) and there have been others. How is this new one different?
The emphasis on this occasion is placed more on countries like Peru and Cuba and there are no Mass movements. Christmas music is to the fore and pieces which involve not only the rhythms of the indigenous peoples, as we have come to expect from the older recordings, but also texts involving the Indians in worshipping the Christ Child or the Virgin. In addition, for me anyway, this group, the Ensemble Villancico, is new. Also this repertoire is new to CPO, a company not, in my mind, normally associated with early music. Have I enjoyed it? Definitely and resoundingly, Yes. So, why?
Take the villancico - really a Christmas carol form - Fuera, fuera from Bolivia by Rocque Chavarria. We meet the text “Away, away. Make room for them/For the Indians are coming”. Then there’s the Mexican, Fernandez’s Negrinho tiray vos with its text ”You, black fellow, is that one of the three kings?/I swear he’s Portuguese”. I love the directness and humour of the words coupled with the memorable melodies. Many, mix 3/4 and 6/8 time which you find throughout Iberian music as in the disc’s final track Son de la Má Téodore which is wild and exciting. Always, or nearly so, they use percussion. These were the rhythms, the texts and the sort of striking melodies, often in a minor mode, which had an immediate appeal for the proselytizing Iberians to catch the Indians’ imagination. As director Peter Pontvik writes in his fascinating booklet notes “… one gets the impression that (at this time) the Christian faith is foreign to the Indians”. He goes on to say that they “[doubt] the divine nature of Christ”. These villancicos try to bring the nativity down to ground-level, making it seem like an ordinary daily activity – a child born in an animal’s shed. The voices of the Ensemble Villancico are suitably earthy, rather folksy – and are suitably idiomatic.
The CD takes its title from the first track Tambalagumba which has the text ‘In joy the moors come to Bethlehem’s manger”. It has all of the characteristics I have just highlighted.
Apart from percussion, the instruments used to accompany the eight voices of the ensemble are recorders, viol, theorbo and lute. It’s worth adding, however, that all of these have been introduced by Pontvik in ‘orchestrations’ as it were. There is nothing new in this approach; it has happened on the other discs. There is however enough evidence that these instruments were used in churches and cathedrals across the ‘New World’ between the 16th and 18th centuries.
Some of the pieces here are played instrumentally, emphasising the dance element of so much of this music. Examples include Zarambeques, O Muescas by de Murcia and the sunny little number Lanchas para bailar. Listen out for the Peruvian pipes and if you miss them they feature as a solo instrument in the traditional melody Baile de Chimo.
Has any of this been recorded before? Well certainly Zéspedes’s Convidando está la noche by the Harp Consort, equally impressively I have to say. Other groups have recorded this iconic pieces also.
Several of these items have sections entitled ‘coplas’ in which a soloist or solo group develop the storyline begun in the opening chorus. This is destined to return between the coplas or verses – a sort of sophisticated call and response. Often, however, the coplas are difficult to grasp with their curious, symbolic allusions which at this remove in time cannot be fully understood. An example of this is in Vengan no se detengen by the best-known composer featured here, Juan Padilla. Some texts are in Aztec Ximoyoldi Sinola and some show an Afro influence for example Tambalagumba. The CD also offers a villancico in Latin: Lienas’s Tristis est anima mea. All of this demonstrates the extent of the influences on the music and peoples of South America during the three or so centuries represented on this disc.
The performances are lively and utterly entrancing. The recording is clear and well spaced. The disc comes with the aforementioned essay, some quite fun photos of the recording sessions and full texts all well translated.
My one criticism is that if this is such a vast repertoire, as we are informed in the notes, then why does the CD run to less than an hour. I can’t help but feel somewhat short-changed.

Gary Higginson

1. Juan Guitérrez de PADILLA (c.1590-1664) Tambalagumba [2.22]
2. Anon Maria todo es Maria (c.1712) [2.49]
3. Anon Lanchas para bailar (c.1785) [3.06]
4. Andres FLORES (1651-1695) A este edificio célebre [2.30]
5. Anon Senora Dona Maria (18th cent) [2.30]
6. Anon Cachua al Nacimiento de Christo Nuestro Senor (c.1785) [2.32]
7. Juan Garcia de ZÉPEDES (1619-1678) Convidandod esta la noche [4.47]
8. Juan de LENAS (c.1617-1654) Tristia est anima mea [3.10]
9. Roque Jacinto de CHAVARRIA (1688-1719) Fuer, Fuera ‘Haganles lugar’ [4.35]
10. Gaspar FERNANDEZ (c.1566-1629) Negrinho tiray vos [3.10]
11. Santiago de MURCIA (1673-1739) Zarambeques, O Muecas [2.08]
12. PADILLA Vengan no sen detengan [2.50]
13. Anon Baile del chimo [3.23]
14. Anon Dios es ya nascido [1.43]
15. Anon Matais de incêndios [2.51]
16. FERNANDEZ Ximoyolali siñola [2.52]
17. Anon Son de la Má Téodora [2.49]