Monday, 18 January 2010

BOLIVIAN BAROQUE / Florilegium & Bolivian Soloists / Review

Florilegium & Bolivian Soloists
Esplanade Concert Hall
Thursday (14 January 2010)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 18 January 2010.

Steering clear from the usual suspects of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, the groundbreaking Baroque in Singapore series opened with a stiff dose of the obscure. British chamber group Florilegium with four Bolivian singers presented music from the Jesuit missions that operated deep in the Andes during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Indian natives were taught European music, composition and performance, resulting in a large corpus of works whose composers remain unknown or anonymous. Listening without preconceptions, these sounded much like Italian and continental music, without a trace of indigenous influences. Latin was used although some motets were sung in the Indian languages of the Chiquitos and Moxos.

However what distinguished was a lack of pretense and an unalloyed joy. The polyphony in Stella Coeli Extirpavit (Star Of Heaven Brought Forth) and Tota Pulchra (Mary Without Blemish) was uncomplicated, with all four voices (left) blending with a purity that was simple yet touching. In the secular number Si El Amor (If A Lover Falls Asleep), each singer took turns to sing a strophe followed by a chorus of Let Him Sleep, which lent a touch of the theatrical.

The solos were also impressive. Mezzo-soprano Gian-Carla Tisera negotiated treacherous Handelian runs in the florid motet Quis Me A Te (Who Will Part Me) while tenor Henry Villca exuded a casual, almost nonchalant, declaration of faith in Caima, Iyai Jesus (Today, Lord Jesus). Spinto-soprano Karina Troiano’s intimate refrain of thanksgiving in Aqui Ta Naqui Iyai (Here Our Father In Present) was hard to resist, contrasted with mezzo Katia Escalera’s fuller and voluptuous tone in an aria about food, In Hac Mensa (At This Table).

Escalera also starred Domenico Zipoli’s Beatus Vir (Blessed Is The Man), alternating lines beautifully with a chorus sung by her three colleagues. Blessed indeed was this Italian contemporary of J.S.Bach, a Jesuit missionary who ventured across the Atlantic and planted his roots in Argentina.

In between vocal numbers were trio sonatas from the 7-strong ensemble - two violins, baroque flute/recorder with Florilegium (left) director Ashley Solomon, and continuo. Their encore, an arrangement of a Bolivian folksong and variations, drew a standing ovation. This breath of fresh air deserved nothing less.

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