Colombian composer Luis Antonio Escobar was educated musically in his homeland, the United States, and Europe, and his music, not much heard today, reflects sources from all three places. This recording by the New York-based Americas Vocal Ensemble, was made in 1982, well in advance of the vigorous interchange between North American and Latin American traditions that has flowered in the new century. It's hard to call it a forerunner of that interchange, but the music is distinctive, and the performances by the chamber-sized choir very strong. The booklet notes, in English only, are inadequate, and a recording devoted to reintroducing a forgotten composer needs a stronger statement of aims and a bit more background. The Cánticas y Madrigales recorded here seem to be a single work; it is stated that they were premiered by the present performers in 1983. But the Cánticas are not in numerical order, and it's not clear how the entire set was intended to be performed. Contrary to what might be expected, the Cánticas, although of varying lengths and degrees of harmonic coloring, are simpler than the madrigals, with mostly parallel harmonies. Escobar was known for his incorporation of Latin American folk forms into his music. They're here, but in a subtle form that resembles neither the hypersimplicity of a composer like Ariel Ramírez, nor the nationalism of Chávez, nor the early Bartókian experiments of Alberto Ginastera; Escobar keeps the squarish forms of his folk-like texts (the madrigal texts are more intricate) but develops a flexible harmonic language that expresses their content in detail. These are concise, absorbing pieces, and anyone who likes choral music of the Americas, or is concerned with it as a performer, should get to know them.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim