Notes and Editorial Reviews
TAMBALAGUMBÁ: Early World Music in Latin America
Peter Pontvik, cond; Ens Villancico
CPO 777 811 (51:00
Text and Translation) period and folk instruments
If one believes the late Robert Stevenson, the treasures awaiting resurrection in Latin American archives are extensive, a task that will surely provide material for many years to come as they slowly emerge to see the light of day. To be sure, there are “normal” European composers beginning already in the Renaissance who wrote much as their colleagues in the Old World did, and indeed imports of music were initiated even as the conquest was being solidified during the latter half of the 16th century. Indigenous composers, many from native cultures where music was highly prized, also began quite early to contribute to this body of work. Up to the 18th century and perhaps beyond, numerous codices of music, meant either for the church or celebrations, were gathered, collections which have preserved a great deal of this music, both by obscure composers and that legendary immortal, Anonymous.
Ensemble Villancico, presumably taking its name from the most popular genre found in New Spain at the time, is a Swedish group, but it has clearly specialized in resurrecting this material from the various codices, many of which are bilingual, in Spanish and Meso-American languages. These were composed by Spanish musicians who arrived to perform official musical duties at the newly-established cathedrals in New Spain. For example, Gaspar Fernandes (c. 1566–1629) was a Portuguese composer who traveled to Puebla in 1609 and wrote in both Nahuatl and Spanish. His
is a nicely rocking
wherein Mary is exhorted to take her son out to dance the
, an Aztec ceremonial dance. From Bolivia comes Roque de Chavarria’s
, a dialogue between the natives and Spanish (in Quechua and Spanish) that is hardly politically correct. The latter mock the former as barbaric, ignorant savages, while the Indians pay their respects at the crib of Jesus with allusions to local animals and a sense of adoration that belies the mockery. This contrasts with the serene
Tristis est anima mea
by Juan de Lienas (c. 1617–1654), possibly a local composer who thoroughly has absorbed the polyphonic style of Tomás Luis de Victoria. The voice-leading and counterpoint are quite Tridentine, but the fact that it probably originated in Mexico gives substance to the notion that the Spanish quickly and efficiently transmitted the prevailing late Renaissance style to their new colonies. Among the pieces are numerous anonymous works, including rhythmically vibrant dances, such as the Peruvian
Baile del chimo
, or the
Lanchas para bailar
, which will be certain to keep the toes tapping, just as they did for religious festivals some four centuries ago. Many of the composers are extremely obscure, with little or nothing known of their lives or music beyond these brief and rare appearances in the codices, but given that they absorbed the native musical idioms completely, often with added native percussion accompaniment (a performance practical consideration that is fairly well-documented).
The performance is crisp and clean, with the folk-like rhythms being clearly delineated. The voices are likewise well done, with good enunciation, even in the native languages. Pontvik has done a great service in bringing this music out from obscurity and this disc will surely have listeners clamoring for more. Highly recommended.
FANFARE: Bertil van Boer