Archive for Hyperion Records

Vivaldi violin concertos you need to know

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on November 16, 2009 by Craig Zeichner

Vivaldi: Concerti per Le Solennità
Giuliano Carmignola, violin and conductor
Sonatori  de la Gioiosa Marca

It’s one of the great paradoxes that the recording industry is probably most responsible for boosting Antonio Vivaldi’s reputation while, at the same time, cutting it down. How? Pioneering record labels like Hyperion (the complete sacred music) and Naïve (the Vivaldi collection) have done tremendous service by resurrecting Vivaldi rarities. But the road to Hell is frequently paved with good intentions. Record labels have the habit of grouping all of the L’estro armonico or Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione concertos (12 in each collection) in neatly packaged 2-CD sets that result in some listeners smugly nodding in agreement with Igor Stravinsky’s bitchy comment that Vivaldi wrote the same concerto 400 times. Vivaldi’s concertos were published together but not intended to be performed in one serving. You wouldn’t eat an entire box of bonbons in one sitting would you? Why listen to 12 concertos in a row?

Stravinsky in Venice, he should have been dunked in a canal

This stunning recording by violinist conductor Giuliano Carmignola and Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca does tremendous service to Vivaldi by presenting six of his lesser-known violin concertos for solemn occasions. The solemn occasions were the various religious festivals celebrated between 1712 to 1735 in various churches in and around the Veneto. The concertos are filled with some of Vivaldi’s most innovative writing. There are two concertos for the Feast of the Assumption where Vivaldi splits the ensemble into two choirs, the only time the composer attempted this. There’s martial pomp in the “Grosso Mogul” concerto and a lovely pastoral tone in the concerto “per il Santo Natale.”

Carmignola, just the man to shut Stravinsky up

The performances of Carmignola are revelatory. More than Fabio Biondi or Andrew Manze or any baroque fiddler on the scene, Carmignola knows how to fire things up—check out the whispery fine bow work in the opening Allegro of the concerto “S. Antonio in Padua”—but also play sweetly—like in the poignant Grave of the D major Assumption concerto. Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca provide full-blooded but always sensitive accompaniment and the sound quality provided by the consistently excellent Divox engineers is audiophile quality.

Baroque Gold of El Dorado

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 16, 2009 by Craig Zeichner
Bolivian art from the 18th century

Bolivian art from the 18th century

I know it’s politically incorrect to suggest anything good came of the arrival of Europeans in Latin America. Yes, the conquistadors were rapacious churls who subjugated the natives and yes, they did commit barbaric acts. As is usually the case, missionaries followed hard on the heels of the European soldiers who arrived in Latin America. And yes, the natives were not necessarily looking for a new religion. (And yes, their old religion included human sacrifice.) But…

Bad conquistador!

Bad conquistador!

One of the best things that Franciscan, Dominican and Jesuit missionaries shared with the native populace was music. According to the great musicologist Robert Stevenson, Hernando Cortez (Cortez the Killer for you Neil Young fans) had a band of Spanish minstrels traveling along with his army to entertain himself and his soldiers. Speaking of Stevenson, if you want to learn anything about the music of Latin America, read his Music in the Aztec and Inca Territory.

In 1609 it was primarily Jesuits who established the first settlements or “reductions” in what was then Paraguay and now includes Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia, and Brazil. Music was one of the subtle tools the Jesuits used to convert the natives.

For over a century and a half the Jesuits lived and worked with native peoples, and both groups shared cultures and music. Jesuit successes threatened the economic boom that the slave trade brought to Europe, so the Jesuits were eventually expelled from Latin America by order of King Carlos III. This was one of the subjects of the magnificent film The Mission.

An actor portraying a good Jesuit and oboist

An actor portraying a good Jesuit and oboist

The music that was played in the Jesuit missions represents a spectacular cultural fusion. Missionaries came from all over Europe, with Spaniards and Italians dominating. The music followed the European Renaissance and Baroque styles—mostly polyphonic Masses and Psalm settings. But here’s the really good bit: European composers added native colors and rhythms to the long-established liturgical forms. And then native composers (educated by missionaries) picked up the European forms and merged them with their own music.

The recordings

I’ve been crazy for this music for over a decade and have collected dozens of recordings. It offers the best of all worlds: luscious Italianate melodies wed to some of the most driving rhythms you will hear this side of the Fania All-Stars. A uniquely Latin sound colors the music. It’s present in the spicy instrumentation, which frequently includes guitars, bandolas, harps and a battery of exotic percussion. The native mix is combined with many instruments found in European baroque music, such as trumpets, recorders, oboes and bassoon, as well as the standard continuo instruments like the harpsichord and organ.  If you are setting out to explore this music, here are some of the recordings you must have:

Spain in the New World

Spain in the New World

Spanish songs and instrumental music are performed by the late Scott Reiss, Tina Chancey and company on this recording. The disc Includes songs by the Canichanas Indians of Bolivia and showcases the impact native rhythms made on old  Spanish forms.


New World Symphonies

New World Symphonies
Ex Cathedra
This is probably the best one-CD collection of the music – as a matter of fact the disc’s subtitle is From Araujo to Zipoli: an A to Z of Latin American Baroque – and features top-notch performances of music by the key composers of the genre. The centerpiece of this recording on the Hyperion label is the Missa Ego flos campi by the most well-known of all the New World composers, Juan Gutiérrez Padilla (1590-1664).

At any rate, villancicos and motets by other composers of the period are interspersed between movements of the mass. It’s a spectacular recording and one of my favorites. Ex Cathedra have two more discs of this music on Hyperion: Moon, sun & all things (CDA67524) and Fire Burning in Snow (CDA67600). Get them all and thank me later.

Mexico Barroco

Padilla: Maitines de Navidad 1652
Angelicum de Puebla
(Urtext Digital Classics)
Speaking of Padilla, the Mexican Urtext label has released several excellent recordings of his music in their ongoing Mexico Barocco series. My favorite in the series is Maitines de Navidad 1652, a collection of villancicos for Christmas. Very simply stated, a villancico is a song form that was born in Spain. When the form took root in Latin America it embraced rustic themes and pastoral imagery. Some of the most exciting music in Mexico are the rhythmically charged villancicos for Christmas by Padilla. One down side to the Urtext recordings, the texts are in Spanish only but the music is so infectious it really doesn’t matter.

Missa Mexicana

Missa Mexicana
The Harp Consort
(Harmonia Mundi)
While I’m on the subject of Padilla and Mexico, another essential recording is the Harp Consort’s superb Missa Mexicana. Here’s the Missa Ego flos campi again but this time with some gorgeous dance music and villancicos interspersed between the mass movements. The performances by Andrew Lawrence-King’s Harp Consort are brilliant.


The Great Garrido

No musician has done more for this music than the Argentine director of Ensemble Elyma, Gabriel Garrido. Garrido has an impressive discography on the French label K617. K617 recordings can sometimes be frustrating because they rarely provide English translations to the obscure texts of much of this music. No matter, you can’t go wrong with any of the recordings Garrido has made with his excellent Ensemble Elyma. If pressed, I would say you should hunt down these five essential recordings:

Lima La Plata

 Lima – La Plata
Music by Araujo, Zipoli, Velasco and Salazar






Domenico Zipoli: Vespres De San Ignacio






Musique Baroque a la Royale Audience de Charcas





Torrejón y Velasco: Musique á la Cité des Rois






L’Or & L’Argent du haut – Pérou






The best way to go, if you can find the recordings, are two big boxed K617 sets Musiques Sacrées Missionnaires, Volumes I & II. The specially priced boxes contain most of the Garrido recordings mentioned above along with music from the missions in Québec and Montréal as well as complete discs devoted to music by Domenico Zipoli.


Here’s a villancico by Juan de Araujo performed by Garrido and his ensemble, the image is static but the music will have you jumping

Please let me know what you think about your explorations of this glorious music. I have dozens more recording recommendations if you are interested.