This is a manuscript compiled by the Bishop of Trujillo to present to an emissary of the Spanish king, Charles IV, extolling what Peru had to offer. It contains musical manuscripts, as well as portraits of local residents and fantastical images of flora and fauna. It is a perfectly preserved moment in history.
Much of the music sounded very familiar, growing out of the Spanish Baroque. But with the influences from the African and indigenous populations, it sparked the ear with new sounds.
An ensemble of Baroque strings, winds and percussion joined the five voices, adding a historical patina to the performance. Instrumental pieces interspersed throughout the program showed off the virtuosity of the guest performers.
The longest, most complex works were sacred music from the La Plata Cathedral. These were pieces rich in Baroque counterpoint, brought powerfully to life by the vocalists.
In addition, there were boisterous Christmas carols, Bolivian songs from the missions sung in an indigenous language, and a slave song. There were also even earlier pieces, from the late 17th century, by Roque Jacinto de Chavarria, a composer worth investigating.
A bawdy sailor song played for laughs was amplified by the projection of illustrations from the Codex of the kind of characters involved. There was a mournful folk song of unrequited love, with projections adding to the reality of the emotion.
The texts themselves presented a unique expression of Christianity. There was a buoyant party song that celebrated the justice brought by the birth of Christ. One of the many prayers to Mary brought ancient Incan deities into the worship.
Guest director and early winds player and percussionist Tom Zajac put together a consistently entertaining program, varying the styles of music and using changing combinations of singers and instrumentalists. His simple staging heightened the effect of the music, especially the comedy.
This is music that deserves to be heard. And it was one of the Rose Ensemble’s most exciting and engaging programs.
William Randall Beard writes about music.