La Fontegara

Sonatas Novohispanas 2: Música Barroca Mexicana

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The Sonatas Novohispanas II title of this disc is a bit misleading; at least some and perhaps most of the music, unlike on La Fontegara's Sonatas Novohispanas, is European, not composed in New Spain. There are instrumental sonatas by the Italian Pietro Antonio Locatelli and by an unknown composer named Puchinger, several works by the Spaniard Santiago de Murcia, who lived in Mexico toward the end of his life, and 12 anonymous single-movement "sonatas," effectively grouped by La Fontegara in three sets of four. These last two groups may indeed have originated in Mexico, but the works by Santiago de Murcia are not among those by this composer that show the influence of music he could have heard in New Spain. In short, the music here follows European models. As the liner notes point out, although the Mexican manuscripts from which the music was taken date from the late eighteenth century, the stylistic locus runs from Corelli to the style galant works of C.P.E. Bach.

That said, the disc brings plenty of musical good news. The Mexico City ensemble La Fontegara (the name, shared with an American and also a Dutch group, derives from that of a Renaissance treatise by Sylvestro di Ganassi dal Fontego) emerges as an important new force in Baroque performance. They do everything right, and the result is a collection of music that's highly listenable even for those with no particular interest in the growing field of recordings of music of the Spanish Western hemisphere. Instrumentation isn't specified in the manuscripts, and La Fontegara does a good job of realizing the music in ways that make sense to modern listeners but also give a sense of the historical issues. The basic group, varied occasionally in order to show some of the possibilities, is flute, gamba, and keyboard or lute. María Díez-Canedo is a top-notch Baroque flutist and recorder player who is unafraid to add a gutsy Spanish touch to the recorder's sonic vocabulary in Santiago de Murcia's vigorous dance pieces. These works are colorful and lots of fun, and the group fares equally well with the virtuosic challenges of Locatelli's sonata.

La Fontegara sometimes tours the United States; see them if they come through your town. You might have a better experience than you would with the sound of this recording, which is a bit harsh. The English translation of the extremely detailed liner notes can only be termed half-assed after one encounters the phrase "the music store's assed value came to 7,912 pesos," along with similar errors. Nevertheless, this is an attractive and offbeat disc that leaves the listener hoping for more Mexican music from the enthusiastic players -- perhaps some of the repertory covered by Jordi Savall in his riotous Villancicos y danzas criollas album.

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