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DECEMBER 2018 | Baroque and Roll

DECEMBER 2018 | Baroque and Roll

By RAY PICOT

Vidala | Gramola 99064

A slow beat on percussion, almost a lament, opens the album Vidala, ushering in the plaintive sounds of the tune La Folia, as Vivaldi’s famous variations are lifted from the grey Venician lagoon to the vibrant air of South America. This album, subtitled Argentine Roots of European Baroque is the brainchild of Argentine-born Rubén Dubrovsky, who explores the cultural exchange of musical forms that developed in what was New Spain, and returned to Europe, transformed. This may not be a new concept to those familiar with the tireless work of Jordi Savall, but what is refreshing is the sheer enjoyment and élan that Dubrovsky and his virtuoso ensemble Bach Consort Wien bring to a heady collection of mostly dance-based pieces.

The album’s title relates to a type of poetic vocal music, a lament found in Argentina and Bolivia, accompanied by percussion, which the director explains as ‘two levels of the overlapping double and triple rhythms in both the acoustic colours’. The consort of 8 instruments plus vocalist utilise historical performance practices and with the use of period instruments they recreate a vivid sound world. Whether it is music from Europe or from the colonies, the music is transformed through its common roots. The matter of authenticity extends to the ‘vidala’, which can be clearly heard with the added percussion from the start with Vivaldi’s Sonata in D minor, Op. 1, No. 12, RV.63 'La Folia'. The ensemble with an added charango, create a mesmerising rendition, transforming Venician artifice into something more earthy and vibrant with Latin American colour.

The next track, an atmospheric chaconne, treads more familiar territory (to that initiated by The Harp Consort) with plucked instruments and percussion, then to be contrasted by the violin-dominated traditional melody of La Bolivianita, celebrating the creation of a new folk tradition. The vibrant tenor Francisco Brito, over a reduced ensemble, then ushers in a full lament in the tradition of vidala. Over 17 tracks, this effortless blending and contrasting of ideas, old (baroque chamber music) and renewed, creates a seamless recital which over its 58 minutes never seems too long. The playing of the ensemble and individuals is of such a consistent calibre that it is simply impossible to pick out preferences in this overflowing feast of vibrant joyful music. At this time of year the life-giving affirmation on this album of new and unfamiliar music make this a treat to share.

Orfeo Chamán | Erato 0190295969691

My second disc opens with a tantalising kaleidoscope of instrumental and native sounds which usher in our first glimpse of the Amazon rainforest. This modern moment gives way to a series of traditional songs and arias recounting an extraordinary retelling of the Orpheus story in Christine Pluhar’s opera, Orfeo Chamán.

We know Christine Pluhar as the inspirational director of the chameleon ensemble, L’Arpeggiata, and here she steps out of the purely Baroque world into one which blends the use of traditional, modern and Baroque instruments in an astonishing new piece of musical theatre for her ensemble accompanied by an excellent cast of four soloists. The opera is a modern reimagining in which Pluhar blends Baroque pieces and stylings with the Central and South American folk traditions, overlaid by some more modern sounds and instruments. This may sound a daunting prospect to appreciate, but the music is vibrant and approachable, and not a questionable attempt at ‘crossover’.

The action moves from ancient Greek to a Pre-Columbian world, where Orpheus, with guitar, goes on a shamanic journey, in which he is accompanied by an Aztec spirit guide. The skillful interweaving of the different instrumental voices and genres is at times quite mesmerising, held together with a wonderful cast who seem completely at home in this transfigured world. A notable contribution is made by Nahuel Pennisi as the eponymous hero, who is a blind guitarist and singer, and is altogether very compelling. The text is a Spanish libretto by the poet Hugo Chaparro Valderrama, and if at times the plot might seem hard to grasp, there is a full libretto and explanation of the action.

The CD in the deluxe version includes a bonus DVD, in which we can see the entire staged opera, which lasts about 70 minutes. However, I found the propulsion of the action to a backdrop of Latin American rhythms quite irresistable, and a very compelling concert piece. It is hard to find a piece that compares with Orfeo Chamán, though going back 300 years, the use of Baroque and native instrumentation and inspiration finds an intriguing parallel in La Púrpura de la Rosa (the first opera in the New World) by Tomás de Torrejón y Velasco Sánchez. However, the music is best enjoyed on its own terms, and is brilliantly brought to life in this life-enhancing production.

I am indebted to my friend Estela Telerman in Buenos Aires for an introduction to these two outstanding Baroque-related recordings which I feel deserve wider attention.

 

 

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