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February 13, 2008

Los Angeles Master Chorale gets into a Latin groove

Los Angeles Times:

The heat from Sunday afternoon's performance by the Los Angeles Philharmonic of Mahler's Symphony No. 6 was still in the air when the Los Angeles Master Chorale arrived at Walt Disney Concert Hall that evening. But the Master Chorale cooled the hall down fast with what seemed like sounds from another planet -- 38 a cappella voices richly and calmly intoning the Officium Defunctorum (Requiem) by Tomás Luis de Victoria.

Despite the usual fire-and-brimstone Requiem texts, Victoria's oddly sweet plainchant and polyphony had a soothing, even consoling effect after Mahler's hyper-emotional cries of hope and despair.

Perhaps some early-music purists would have preferred an even cooler, more neutral -- and all-male -- set of voices. Perhaps this music from 1603 would have been more at home in the far more reverberant ambience of a cathedral. Yet whether or not conductor Grant Gershon realized it, he created a powerful juxtaposition for anyone who spent the day at Disney Hall.

The intended point, as it turned out, was to contrast the relatively austere music of the Spanish Renaissance with the less-inhibited goings-on in the Western Hemisphere in mid-millennium.

Groups such as Chanticleer and the Harp Consort have been carefully mining what has been tagged as the "Mexican Baroque" over the last decade or so. But this remains an uncharted field for most concertgoers -- and with a boost from a gently churning four-piece Hispanic/Baroque "rhythm section," the Master Chorale offered a tantalizing sampler.

The crucial element that defined most of the New World music on the program was rhythm -- the use of influences picked up from native cultures.

In the fascinating prologue from what is apparently the first opera written in the Americas - "La Púrpura de la Rosa" by Tomás de Torrejón Velasco -- the basic style isn't far from that of Baroque opera. Yet it was the Latin rhythms and the syncopation in the choral lines that gave this music its flavor, plus a vitality that exceeds that of most of its European models.

Sometimes the rhythmic ingredient was less obvious -- as in Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla's more European-leaning motet, "Mirabilia testimonia tua." Yet by the time the Master Chorale swung into Juan García de Zéspedes' guaracha-based "Convidando está la noche," the concert was beginning to spill over into world music territory. Acuña's hand drum solo over a vamp from the trio of Baroque string players wouldn't have been out of place in a 20th century Afro-Cuban band.

In other words, it grooved. Delightfully.

Posted by acapnews at February 13, 2008 12:21 AM

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