Just in time for Christmas (but not limited to that season) comes a collection of music in which dance and devotion are mixed in equal parts. Perhaps people would go to church more frequently if they knew that the music would set their toes tapping, as is the case here.
The composers represented on this disc, all from the Baroque era, are little-known today. They include Manuel Joseph Quiroz, Rafael Antonio Castellanos (both from Guatemala), Juan Frances Iribarren (Spain), Antonio de Salazar (Mexico), and Roque Ceruti (Peru). Spain's Gaspar Sanz (1640-1710) will be familiar to a few more people, as his music has been included in guitar recitals by Andrés Segovia, Julian Bream and many others. (Sanz's Canarios, which Savino plays here, was adapted by Joaquín Rodrigo in his Concierto para un gentilhombre.)
Spain is not an island, of course. In the 1600s and 1700s, its culture was exported to Central and South America, as well to southern Italy. At the same time, the Iberian peninsula itself was influenced by music and the arts from the rest of Europe and from northern Africa. Muslims and Jews lived among the Catholics, and gypsies added spice to the stew as well. In other words, Spanish culture was not a monolithic entity, but the sum of a diverse national, regional, and spiritual influences.
When Guatemalans, Peruvians, and Mexicans went to church, then, it was natural that they would worship using a mixture of indigenous music and musical styles imported from Spain. At first, the melody and harmonies of Quiroz's "Jesús, Jesús" could have come from the European mainland. The flowing guitar accompaniment suggests a courtly dance. Later in this villancico, the tempo increases, percussion is added, and the guitar is strummed with joyful roughness - who wouldn't want to dance, hearing this? (A villancico is a vocal work in which an initial refrain is followed by a series of verses, before the refrain returns.) "Convidando esta la noche" by Mexico's Juan Garcia Zéspedes begins with a dignified strain - something between a chorale and a sarabande - but again, the mood changes entirely, and we find ourselves worshiping the Christ child by dancing the guaracha, a dance associated with Cuba and, even farther back, Africa. (A solo percussion "break" in its middle adds the perfect touch of informality.)
The performances blend Baroque know-how and discipline with a spirit of fun, and also with respect for the music's diverse roots. Savino founded El Mundo in 1997. The group's specialty has been Baroque music from the Latin countries, so this repertoire is perfect for them. The two Jennifers, Ellis and Lane, are guest artists. Both are Baroque specialists who seamlessly shift into the more "popular" performance styles represented on this CD. Individually, they sing beautifully, and when they sing together, they discover a veritable "New World" of beauty. Fine engineering, and excellent booklet notes by Savino. Texts and translations are included too. This CD is a winner in every way.
Copyright © 2005, Robert Cummings