WORKS: Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
PERFORMER: Ensemble Elyma, Ars Longa de La Havane, Cor Vivaldi/Gabriel Garrido
CATALOGUE NO: 139
The Creole Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is the most significant of all the Latin American fiestas, a secular and sacred event lasting days that, for all the cult of the black Madonna it celebrates, is ultimately an excuse for a party. It’s therefore impossible to replicate authentically on disc, but this concert of Baroque music from La Plata, now Sucre, in southern Bolivia, is powerfully emotive and infectiously joyful nonetheless. By turns poignant and devotional, then rumbustious and profane, melding folksong with complex polyphony, all sentiment is here.
Musically, the most sophisticated elements are those attributed to the Bolivian composer Chavarría (1688-1719). He, and his contemporaries Guzmán, Flores and various unknown musicians, aren’t hidebound by orchestral convention: they add castanets, maracas, gaitas (hispanic bagpipes) and guitars. They make their singers laugh – take Chavarría’s Salve Alegria, risa, ¡ha!, with its chorus of giggles – and create sound pictures, as in the powerful Oigan las fiestas de toros evoking the build-up to a corrida by replicating the rising excitement of the crowd.
Bar the fine countertenor Fabian Schofrin, it’s not possible to praise individual soloists for tracks aren’t attributed (there’s no English translation either). But overall, the performances – by the Swiss Ensemble Elyma, Ars Longa from Cuba and the Catalan children’s choir Cor Vivaldi – are strong and engaging, the quality of voices pure and vibrant. It’s not always a refined sound instrumentally. But there’s no disputing the atmosphere and excitement it evokes. Claire Wrathall