Santa Fe Desert Chorale

A Celebration of Hispanic Music

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The tradition of Hispanic choral music in the Americas runs from the early days of the colonial era to the present time, and the repertory is large and still in some key passages unexplored. Samplers of various kinds and with various emphases have appeared. This one comes from the 16-member (and apparently exclusively non-Hispanic) Santa Fe Desert Chorale, which often specializes in unaccompanied choral polyphony. The chorales excel here, however, in a work accompanied by a collection of folk instruments, mostly stringed and percussion: the Misa Criolla of Argentine composer Ariel Ramírez. In Spanish, not Latin, this mass remains one of the few musical triumphs of Vatican II-era thinking. It is a brilliant, kinetic, warm, colorful work, filled with Argentine folk rhythms and turns of melodic phrase. The Misa Criolla is often sung by Latin and Latin American groups at the local and amateur level, for it does not place great technical demands on the singers. The utterly infectious reading given here, however, shows what can be accomplished with a small professional group in terms of sheer bright colors, and the performance is worth the purchase price by itself. The other highlight is the unusual Sol-fa de Pedro (track 13) by 18th century Mexican composer Manuel de Zumaya. This work also shows vernacular influence musically, and its text, which casts the lamentations of St. Peter into musical metaphors, is also unorthodox in European terms. There are also early simple pieces in the Aztec Nahuatl language, Spanish Renaissance polyphony (not always as limpid as once would get from the likes of the Tallis Scholars), other vernacular pieces, and Baroque works like Antonio de Salazar's Egregie Doctor that formed a sacred counterpart to the delightful secular repertoire lately explored by Jordi Savall and others. Most of the music is centered on Mexico and on the Renaissance and Baroque eras, and within each area there are stronger performances than those available here. But the program as a whole is inventive, diverse, and wholly enjoyable, and it opens up new possibilities for Latin and non-Latin choirs alike.

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