Valentina Alvarez

Piramidal: Barroco Hispanoamericano

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To call the music on this album "barroco hispanoamericano" is to stretch the truth. A few of these Spanish Baroque composers worked in the New World; a few are represented in Spanish American archives stretching from California to Montevideo; and some do not even have that tenuous connection. The Mexican Urtext label's presentation is beautiful, with an epigraph from Sor Juana Inès de la Cruz supplying the album's title. But what we have here is essentially a century's worth of Spanish Baroque music, showing the gradual ascendancy of the Italian styles that conquered Spain and its American dominions as surely as they did France. Many of them are unfamiliar to listeners outside the Spanish-speaking world, so this recording of mostly sacred soprano arias (as the liner notes nicely put it, "the very life of composers during this time is often a game of mirrors between the sacred and the mundane") is a welcome addition to the literature.

The question mark for the potential buyer is the voice of soprano Valentina Álvarez. It's quite unusual, a delicate yet throaty thing that plays fast and loose with the pitch but is attractively involved with the clearly enunciated text, and you'll either love it or hate it. Fortunately, the advent of Internet samples makes it easy to determine which one; she is perhaps at her best in the six small arias by Vicente Martín y Soler (who, for goodness' sake, moved to Italy, Austria, and finally Russia, heading away from the New World all the while) that conclude the disc. Two words of warning: the texts are not translated into English at all, and the liner notes are barely translated, burdening the reader with a veritable blitz of grammatical and spelling errors.

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