The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 14, 2005


Mexican 'popular' baroque music featured at Union Hall

Candlelit Union Hall was filled last Friday night when the Cambridge Society for Early Music (CSEM) presented its second Chamber Music by Candlelight concert of the season. The performers were a trio of Mexican musicians, called La Fontegara, and a Cambridge-based soprano. The program featured baroque music from the Spanish Empire in Mexico and South America, much of which incorporated the style, words and musical characteristics familiar even today in that area.

Musicians of La Fontegara were Maria Diez-Canedo (recorder and transverse flute), Gabriela Villa Walls (viola da gamba), and Eloy Cruz (baroque guitar and theorbo, a very tall 18 string instrument, pitched to sound very low bass notes).

The ensemble, along with Lydia Heather Knutson, the soprano, opened with the first of many villancicos, early popular love songs that later incorporated religious images, transforming them into popular gospels. This one was about Anton, an African slave, going to dance around the "child-God." The catchy rhythms of the chorus caused foot-tapping to start within the audience. This set the tone for an evening of wonderful, interesting baroque music integrated with a regional, Latin, folk sound.

Cruz, primary spokesman for the group, communicated great knowledge of the history, and enormous passion for the instruments and the music. As is the practice in most CSEM concerts, the audience receives not only fine entertainment, but also first-class explanations about the instruments, the music, and the environment in which it was composed.

The songs and instrumental pieces dated from the late 1600s and the 1700s. They were found in the archives of the cathedrals at Oaxaca, Mexico City and Lima, from specific manuscripts and from the first Mexican anthology, dated 1732, a collection of French, Spanish, German, Italian, English, Scottish and Mexican music. One instrumental piece was based on a composition by the classical Italian, Corelli. Another piece had strong African influences including accents and syncopations.

The audience chuckled at the description of a group of songs, jácaras, which were popular among the Spanish "mafia" who controlled certain Spanish seaports. These pieces were indeed more strident, rhythmic and full of guitar strums, so familiar to our expectation of Spanish music.

Cruz told us that there are villages in Mexico today where residents play and sing the same 17th- and 18th- century pieces we were hearing that evening. The final 18th-century songs were in the style of a Mariachi band with strings. One song, full of swinging rhythms and virtuoso flute obligato, guitar strums and accompaniment, and a basso continuo on the viola da gamba that raced back and forth across the strings, ended: "Play and dance, Ay! Because we have fire in the snow and snow in the fire. Heaven gives us peace on earth, Ay! Give thanks to God that we're done!"

The last piece was a Spanish popular dance song of the 17th century, no longer found in Spain, but preserved in South America. Lydia taught us the words, line by line. But, since these performers and their instruments had never seen snow before, nor had they ever been so cold, they wrote their own words as the last two verses: "The Mexicans arrived, for Christmas in Boston. With this I say farewell to such pretty snow, so white and soft, with this *#^! cold we are freezing!"

The audience was indeed fortunate that the Mexicans had arrived. They were truly virtuosos on their respective instruments. Since they are all professors of music in Mexico we can hope they are transferring their remarkable skills to the next generation.

Along with delicious delicacies, the post concert reception gave the large and enthusiastic audience the opportunity to become better acquainted with the performers and their music.

The final CSEM concert of this season, on Saturday, February 12, will feature the duo Les Voix Humaines, performing music of the French baroque. Carlisle is privileged to have such world-class music brought to our doorstep.

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito