musica Dei donum

Concert reviews

"A baroque Christmas in Ecuador"
Música Temprana/Adrián Rodríguez van der Spoel
concert: Dec 15, 2017, Almere, Goede Rede

anon: Celebre la tierra, cielos; El cielito; Ese viril con pan; Fuentes si nacéis; Muy hermosa es María; Seguilda, marineros; Vamos al lugar amor; Antonio José Estévez APONTE (1916-1988): Tonada de ordeño (arr. Adrián Rodríguez van der Spoel); Manuel BLASCO (1628-1695): De uno en uno; La chacona me piden; Joseph HURTADO (c1660-1722): Vamos todos a ver; Santiago DE MURCIA (1673-1739): Cumbée; trad (20th C): Tono de la virgen (arr. Adrián Rodríguez van der Spoel); trad / Santiago DE MURCIA: Zangarilleja

Lina Marcela López, Olalla Alemán, soprano; Luciana Cueto, mezzo-soprano; Sophia Patsi, contralto; Emilio Aguilar, Fabio Furnari, tenor; Adrián Rodríguez van der Spoel, tenor, guitar; João Luis Veloso Paixão, bass; François de Rudder, dulciaan; Joshua Cheatham, violone; Catalina Vicens, organ

Every year in December numerous concerts with music for Advent and Christmas are given across the globe. The repertoire is often very obvious: Bach's Christmas Oratorio, Handel's Messiah or traditional Christmas carols. However, sometimes performers are willing to break fresh ground. An ensemble which often does so, is Música Temprana, which under the direction of Adrián Rodriguez van der Spoel explores the repertoire of the baroque era, that has been found in Latin America. Parts of this repertoire have been performed and recorded, but there is still much to discover.

One of the recent discoveries is the so-called Codex Ibarra, the name given to a collection of separate parts, which have been found in Quito in Ecuador. It is the only source of baroque music from this country, that has been found to date. A selection of the pieces in this 'codex' was presented at a series of concerts in the Netherlands and Belgium. I attended the concert in Almere, a town in Flevoland, one of the polders in the former Zuiderzee.

Most of the pieces are written in the form of the villancico. Originally this was a form used for secular music, but during the 16th century it was applied to sacred music or - probably a more precise term - devotional music. Villancicos were not intended to be sung in church, but in the course of time they entered the church nevertheless. From the reactions of the ecclesiastical authorities we know, that in the 18th century villancicos were sung in churches in Spain.

It seems likely that this was also the case in Latin America. One of the features of the villancico is the mixture of the sacred and the secular. That was a feature of every day life in Latin America in the 17th and 18th centuries anyway, and probably still is. The texts of the villancicos in the Codex Ibarra are mostly anonymous, but were often written by nuns. That inspired the ensemble to include other music, which can be connected to women: songs sung during daily work at home or on the land. Whereas in villancicos images and situations from daily life are used for sacred subjects, in such secular songs the sacred is never far away. It shows that there was no watershed between the sacred and the secular and that faith and the church were part of daily life.

The programme was reason for another observation: the popularity of the villancico declined in the early 19th century, but in some ways it lived on in other forms. The concert opened with a traditional song from the 20th century, Tono de la virgen, which in subject matter and character is not very different from older pieces. It was interesting to hear this piece, which is rather intimate and introverted, proving once again, that villancicos and other repertoire of this kind are not necessarily fast and furious, and can come without the marked rhythms, which one often associates with it. The programme included several pieces of a rather quite and lyrical character.

One also doesn't need a whole battery of instruments, and not even percussion. Here only a violone, a dulcian, a harp, a guitar and an organ were used. The performers showed that it is a misunderstanding, that one needs percussion to realize the rhythms of this kind of music. Those came off perfectly, thanks to the engaging playing and the excellent ensemble. Another remarkable feature was the participation of no fewer than seven singers. Several pieces were apparently written for two separate groups, a kind of polychorality one does not expect in this repertoire. This was sometimes used to create a dialogue between two groups of people, for instance seraphs and shepherds in De uno en uno, one of the few pieces whose composer is known: Manuel de Blasco.

This shows that villancicos became more sophisticated in the course of time. The treatment of the text also testifies to that. There were several moments of effective illustration of the text, for instance in Seguilda, marineros. The frequent repetition of the word "picar" (eat) in the estribillo (refrain) of Ese viril con pan, a villancico for "the most sacred" (i.e. the Eucharist) can't miss its effect. The same goes for the returning exclamations of "vamos" (let's go [to see the newborn babe]) in Vamos todos a ver by Joseph Hurtado, which was quite electrifying. Whereas that was one of the more theatrical pieces, Vamos al lugar amor was very different, a much more lyrical piece, wonderfully sung by two women's voices.

The singers in this concert were just excellent, all of them individually, as they demonstrated in their solo contributions, but also together, as an ensemble. The instruments were skilfully played, and the dulcian lent a special colour to several pieces. In the anonymous Cumbée, to which a guitar part from the Codex Saldivar (c1734) had been added, was given a strongly improvisatory performance on guitar, harp and violone, the latter played pizzicato.

I noted a difference between the concert and a radio transmission of the first concert in the series, which I heard a couple of days earlier. In the latter the performers seemed to be more restrained, as if they didn't completely feel at home yet. Adrián Rodriguez van der Spoel explained, that the transcriptions had been finished only a month before. They didn't even know, how exactly the pieces he had selected, would sound. In the concert I attended the artists apparently were more relaxed and felt much more comfortable. They clearly enjoyed themselves and their engaging performance struck a chord with the audience, which reacted frequently with applause. The long applause at the end was well deserved. Once again Música Temprana proved to be a top class ensemble. For those who could not attend the concert and are interested in this repertoire: it will be released on disc in 2018. That is definitely something to look forward to.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

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