New Classical Tracks: Lively Baroque Fusion

by Julie Amacher, Minnesota Public Radio
January 4, 2011
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St. Paul, Minn. — The term "world music" was coined in the 1960's at Wesleyan University in Connecticut by ethnomusicologist Robert E. Brown. The music industry first recognized the term in the 1980's to classify any kind of non-Western music. The latest recording by the Montreal-based Ensemble Caprice might be called "world music," and its origins can be traced as far back as the 16th century. "Salsa Baroque" is a savory collection of baroque music of Latin America marked by a delightful fusion of musical elements coming from Europe, Africa and America itself.

Antonio Martin y Coll was an early 18th century Catalonian composer who compiled the largest and most important Spanish manuscript collection of keyboard music from the late 17th and very early 18th centuries. It includes pieces from Spain, France and Italy, and some of them have a New World influence. There are five pieces from that collection on this recording, all by anonymous composers. These lively Spanish dances really caught my ear. The recorder leads the way through the opening "Chacona," which pulsates with complex rhythms. Track 5, titled "Xacara," is a short Spanish dance featuring baroque guitar and various string instruments punctuated by an hypnotic bass line from the theorbo, the "granddaddy" of the lute family.

"Salsa Baroque" also features an impressive array of vocalists. A wonderful soprano duet highlights the short masterpiece, "Los coflades de la estleya" (subtitled, "Black Song for the Birth of our Lord), written by Juan de Araujo. He was a Spanish musician who spent most of his life in Peru and Bolivia, where he served as choirmaster at the cathedral in La Plata. Araujo composed choral works with shades of African rhythms and European counterpoint. This is a wonderful example of the unusual combination of musical colors that reigned in Latin America in the 17th century.

Geography did not hinder musical styles from transferring across borders in the 17th century. The gorgeous song, "Yo soy la locura," by Henry de Bailly demonstrates how a French composer incorporated Spanish lyrics into his music. One of Canada's most promising young stars, soprano Shannon Mercer is featured on this tender ballad. Her luminous voice blends beautifully with simplicity of the flute and recorder.

Domenico Zipoli was an Italian Baroque composer who studied with Alessandro Scarlatti before moving to Argentina with a Jesuit missionary in 1717. At the time of his death he was the most famous organist, and one of the most famous musicians, in European-ruled South America. Zipoli is best known for his keyboard music; however on this recording, we hear two of his chamber pieces. I especially love the powerful percussion that accentuates his "Battalia Imperiale." The musicians of Ensemble Caprice perform this concerto with technical precision and joyful energy.

Salsa can be a spicy hot sauce, an up-tempo dance, or Latin-American popular music. On their recording, "Salsa Baroque," Ensemble Caprice gives us a tasty entree of popular Latin-American music from the 17th and 18th centuries, enriched by the melding of musical styles from Africa, Europe and the Americas. And most importantly, the music and the ensemble are great fun to listen to.

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