Ex Cathedra/Skidmore, St John's, Smith Square, London
When world music met the baroque
Friday 24 May 2002
Under the artistic direction of the open-eared Kate Bolton, this year's Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music is spreading its net wider than ever with an exploration not only of the give-and-take between vernacular and cultivated traditions in the Baroque itself, but the manifold ways European music interacted with the native traditions of the Americas, Russia, Africa and the East in the 17th and 18th centuries. Real World Music, one might call it, with effects upon the musical traditions of those continents that have more or less continued down to our own time.
The opening concert focused upon the musical consequences of the Spanish conquest of the Americas – a field generating much scholarly excitement at present as more and more riches are brought to light in such hitherto neglected areas as Bolivia – and encapsulated in a beautifully balanced sequence of items delivered with fervour and finesse by 10 voices and 10 period players of the Birmingham-based consort Ex Cathedra under their longstanding founder-director, Jeffrey Skidmore.
Framed in a processional from 1631 setting Quechua words – the language of the Incas – to solemn, pavane-like polyphony, the programme centred on two masses. The first, Missa Ego flos campi, by the Spanish-born but Mexico-based Juan Gutierrez de Padilla (1590-1664), already inflected Gabrieli-like antiphonal exchanges with incipiently Latin American cross-rhythms.
The second was Missa San Ignacio by Domenico Zipoli (1668-1726), who left Tuscany to work in Paraguay – an enchanting "beginner's guide to Baroque music" as Skidmore describes it, in which each line of the text becomes a miniature chorus, aria, or fugue, interspersed with bright little instrumental ritornelli, and establishing the basics of a style that evidently continued to evolve in South America throughout the 18th century.
Between the mass sections we heard such items of Old World polyphony as the wonderful "Versa est in luctum", composed for the funeral of Philip II of Spain by Alonso Lobo (c1555-1617), a seamless span of curvilinear counterpoint that drew the most intense singing of the evening. But we also heard such delights as the Christmas song "Los conflades de la estleya" (We, the brothers of the Star) by the Peruvian-raised Juan de Araujo (1648-1712), an Iberian folkdance, inflected by African slave-rhythms and on the very point of turning into a rumba.
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