Collection: Bolivian Baroque

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Araujo,Casseda,Chavarria,Durón,Velasco & Zipoli
LABELS: Channel
WORKS: Vol. 3: Music from the Missions and La Plata: works by Araujo, Casseda, Chavarria, Duron, Velasco & Zipoli
PERFORMER: Arakaendar Bolivia Choir; Florilegium/Ashley Solomon; James Johnstone (organ)


Within the last decade, Spanish America has yielded up a seemingly inexhaustible treasure of Baroque music. Following the release of Jeffrey Skidmore and Ex Cathedra’s revelatory disc of New World Symphonies in 2003 (Hyperion), Florilegium and Ashley Solomon joined the modern-day exploration of the Spanish Main. The quantity of outstandingly vibrant and passionate music which they have unearthed with the assistance of local specialist Piotr Nawrot is astonishing – over 7,000 musical documents in Bolivia alone. 

Most energetic are villancicos, in a lively, popular idiom but with a didactic purpose. Florilegium’s new disc opens with one by Roque Jacinto de Chavarría written at the turn of the 18th century. ‘Spaniards’ mock native ‘Indians’ who, in turn, claim their right to adore the new-born Christ-child. Its pounding rhythms, oscillating between 3/8 and 3/4 time, with gasping first-beat rests, have haunted me for days.

To perform this repertoire Solomon has founded and trained a native Bolivian choir, commuting monthly to Bolivia to rehearse. The sound is captivating – wholly unmannered, fresh-toned and inexhaustibly animated – and it’s become tauter still since their debut in Vol. 2 of this series. Their commitment, enjoyment and communication is palpable. When, in contrast to the villancicos, they sing a polyphonic Mass by Velasco and a richly-textured eight-part anonymous ‘Salve’, the transparent purity of their voices is deeply moving. Among them are some impressive soloists; most memorable is an alluring soprano alternating with the chorus in a heavenly lullaby to the Christ-child by Diego de Casseda, ‘Silence, wind, quiet, breathe not a sound…’.

Each of Solomon’s Bolivian Baroque discs contains a new and distinctive element, in this case an organ. While the Arakaendar Bolivia Choir was recorded in the Netherlands, during a tour, the organ was recorded over 6,000 miles away, in a mission church reached after a 22-hour journey through the Amazonian jungle.

It’s a remarkable instrument, recently restored but retaining a raw quality, accentuated by the large proportion of ‘mutation’ stops, emphasising harmonics above the sounded note, and by the temperament to which it’s tuned. James Johnstone includes three pieces by Zipoli, two in free forms and one finely-crafted canzona. Another instrumental texture is represented by an anonymous trio sonata from the missionary settlements of the Chiquito Indians. Solomon’s flute-playing in the slow movement is particularly lovely. 


Surround-sound enhances the disc, both imparting depth to the acoustic ambience and also clarifying the spatial effects. Given so much completely unfamiliar music, more extensive notes would have been helpful – but the music itself is totally absorbing from beginning to end. George Pratt