Destino Mexico by La Compania

 

La Compania. Destino Mexico: Baroque Rhythms from the New World. Recorded April, 2013: Ian Roach Hall, Melbourne, Australia. http://www.lacompania.com.au

Personnel: Danny Lucin, Director and cornetto (Serge Delmas, France, 2007); Lotte Betts-Dean, soprano; Daniel Thompson, tenor; Mitchell Gross, shawm, tenor dulcian; Brock Imison, alto dulcian, bass dulcian; Julian Bain, tenor sackbut (Rainer Egger, Switzerland, 2010); Glenn Bardwell, tenor sackbut (Rainer Egger, Switzerland, 1999); Victoria Watts, viola da gamba; Rosemary Hodgson, renaissance guitar, baroque guitar; Denis Close, cavquinho, percussion; Chirstine Baker, percussion.

In 1527, Fernando Cortez returned to Europe from Mexico with treasures from the Aztec culture he found there. Amongst these riches were a group of dancers, musicians, and jugglers who demonstrated their art which was notable for “the perfect unison of their singing and the perfection of their synchronism”. It is well known that within decades of Cortez’s arrival that massive cathedrals were built in Mexico and that European music was performed in them. In this recording we hear selections which are mainly villancicos-strophic songs which employ dance-like triple meter as well as syncopation, and often have texts with lighthearted lyrics. Michael McNab provides detailed information in the liner notes about this exceedingly interesting time of cultural assimilation and demonstrates how each culture (at least in the realm of music) benefited the other.

Danny Lucin’s playing is a joy to hear. His light and clear sound blends perfectly with the voices of Lotte Betts-Dean and Daniel Thompson. The precision of their intonation is notable. The music on this disc is characterized by lively and intricate rhythms which are performed in an exact fashion without any hint of tension. The performers are clearly comfortable in the midst of this complexity. Julian Bain and Glenn Bardwell provide the bottom and as with Lucin’s playing, they are precise in intonation and blend perfectly with the vocalists. The total ensemble shapes phrases as one with delicacy and charm.

Of note is one work by Gaspar Fernandes (1570–1629) entitled “Andres, Where are the Cattle?” The text is seemingly sweet and simple, yet raises an interesting theological question which goes unanswered. An instrumental rendition of another work by the same composer, “For in Such Grace (This Child is Born)” is exquisite in how in its rhythmic complexity such a powerfully reserved concept of grace is understood in the incarnation of Christ. It is wonderful how La Compania is able to present this.  Another instrumental, “Joy of the Heavens” (anonymous) is beautiful yet ominous in the scoring of the lower voices (including shawms played by Mitchell Cross and Brock Imison). Again, the playing is refined: perfect in intonation, balance and blend. The last track is a work by Juan Garcia de Zespedes (ca. 1619­–1678) “The Night is Beckoning” which celebrates the birth of Christ by beginning with a slow section which is reminiscent of “Lo, How a Rose” and then breaks into a festive section in which Lucin’s improvisation captures the tremendous joy of Christ’s birth.

This recording is a delight. The combination of cultural assimilation and excellence of performance which it offers is outstanding.

-- James Miller