Collection: New World Symphonies

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Araujo,Fernandes,Franco,Lobo,Padilla
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Baroque music from Latin America by Araujo, Fernandes, Franco, Lobo & Padilla
PERFORMER: Ex Cathedra/Jeffrey Skidmore
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67380

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These are ‘symphonies’, or ‘soundings-together’, of solo and choral voices with a colourful array of instruments. They’re by virtually unknown composers catering for the religious ardour which swept through South America on the heels of the conquistadors. It’s a heady mix, rooted in European polyphony but influenced, often almost beyond recognition, by rhythm and colour, both local and from West African slaves. The core of the programme is a Mass by Padilla, reflecting the generous forces – 42 singers – available in Puebla Cathedral.

The physical layout there invited antiphony, and Ex Cathedra throws phrases to and fro spiritedly, though the recording’s stereo space is rather narrow. The expressive range is astonishing. At one extreme are nativity celebrations – two sopranos, choir, guitars and percussion so off-the-beat that the ear hangs suspended in metrical indecision. The final track builds from a disarmingly gentle opening to shouts of unbridled exhilaration. For contrast comes the sweetest lullaby for solo voices, riveting not least for its naively wayward harmony – I’d buy the disc for this alone.

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By chance, The Harp Consort produced a similar disc last year (Harmonia Mundi, reviewed October), boasting manic energy and vivid instrumental colours. Ex Cathedra is more reserved – probably nearer the original sound and a delight to commend. George Pratt