Ramirez: Misa Criolla, Navidad Nuestra, Missa Luba
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The celebration of commonalties between widely divergent cultures is a fine thing. Here the commonality is Christianity as celebrated in both Africa and Argentina. In a world now politically guided by religiously inspired factionalism, this recording, ?Celebrating Sacred Rythms,? has a priori significance. If we can stretch its message to include the other sons of Abraham, the world may become a better place in which to live?in something more akin to harmony far beyond the mere musical sense of that word.
Back in the 1960s, the first recordings of the Missa luba and Misa criolla had a profound impact on my otherwise Eurocentric sensibility. Here we have fresh recordings of Argentinean composer Ariel Ramírez?s folk song-based settings of Navidad nuestra , and Misa criolla , both composed in 1964, as well as a new Missa luba .
This Missa luba , if it existed in a vacuum, would be fine. But compared to the wonderful recording of it made back in the 1960s by The Troubadours of King Baudouin under the direction of Guido Haazen (and currently available on Philips 475 6133), it falls short. It lacks the plangent sound of that quintessentially Congolese choir, and the percussionists get close to, but fail to nail their contributions to the sonic fabric by the smallest of margins. The two Ramírez pieces, however, come off splendidly.
Argentinean composer Ariel Ramírez was born in 1921. He melds his folk-inspired melodic sense with the demands of European choral conventions, and does it admirably. Some would categorize this as ?World Music.? I protest that. All music is World Music. It comes from the world, whether it be by Mozart, Brahms, Villa-Lobos, Steve Reich, or Radio Head, and when it is done well, it speaks to the world. The full title of Navidad nuestra describes it better than I can: ?Folk Drama of the Nativity, based on the Rhythms and Traditions of Hispanic America.? This is, with its underlying percussion ensemble, bracing and refreshing stuff.
The Misa criolla again comes in competition with the performance found on that aforementioned Philips release, this time by the Coral Salve de Laredo and the Sociedad Coral de Bilbao directed by José Ocejo. Their tenor soloist is José Carreras, before his bout with leukemia. He is indeed in fine voice, floating some exquisite head voice pianissimos. In this Naxos reading, the solo tenor part has been arranged for three tenors in various combinations. It works well. Manuel Melendez, José Sacin, and Pablo Talamante impart a welcome rawness to the proceedings. One can, in terms of tempo and phrasing, lay this reading right on top of the Philips effort, and the fit would be almost perfect. The performers are both in the same groove. One slight nit to pick: in the Gloria of the Philips version, the underlying harmonies hint at the Bolivian tune Nevando esta , and those performers employ what sounds like Bolivian bass flutes?an effect that is only approximated in the Naxos account.
In the end, this is a worthy offering. Texts and translations are not provided, but can be accessed online at www.naxos.com/libretti/navidadnuestra.htm.
FANFARE: William Zagorski
Catalog Number: 8557542
Composer: Ariel Ramirez, Guido Haazen
Conductor: Joseph Holt
Orchestra/Ensemble: Washington Choral Arts Society
Performer: Carlos Boltes, Carmen de Vicente, Christal Rheams, Edgardo Malaga, Gonzalo Cortes, Janette Wilkinson, José Sacin, Laura Knutson, Leon Khoja-Eynatyan, Luis Garay, Manuel J. Melendez, Michael Bard, Pablo Talamante, Ricardo Diaz, Richard Marlow, Scott Hill, Wilbur Wood