Baroque Music from Bolivia at Cheltenham 2012

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Brentner, De Araujo, Zipoli, Bassani, Balbi: Florilegium, Arakaendar Bolivia Choir /Ashley Solomon (conductor), Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham, 8.7.2012. (RJ)

Jan Josef Ignac Brentner: Gloria et honore
Anon: Sonata Chiquitanas No XVIII
Juan de Araujo: Two Villiancicos
Dominico Zipoli: Toccata in D minor; Te Deum
Giovanni Battista Bassani: Missa Santa Ana; Missa a la Fuga
Anon: Salve Regina, Stella coeli extirpavit, Eia fidelis, Cantemus Domino
Ignacio Balbi: Sonata Chiquitanas No IX

You will be excused for blinking twice when you read this headline. Austria, Italy, Germany, Spain, England – these are the kind of countries you associate with Baroque music – not a land locked country in South America! So this Cheltenham Festival concert in the Regency splendour of Pittville Pump Room proved something of an eye-opener – and an ear-opener, too – to everyone in the audience.

Bolivian Baroque came about as a result of Jesuit missionary endeavours in Bolivia from the 1670s onwards. The Jesuits discovered that the local people were keen on music and decided that music could play a key role in evangelising the populace. So the various missions collected music for the purpose of worship, and before long a measure of cross fertilisation was occurring between European music of the time and native traditional culture. Though the missionaries were banished from Bolivia in 1767, the music they had brought stayed on and continued to flourish until now.

To cut a long story short, the Polish musicologist Dr Piotr Nawrot has spent the last 15 years researching into and working on over 1,200 musical compositions still extant in local archives. Ashley Solomon of Florilegium has also become involved in this project over the past decade, and one of the fruits of this collaboration is a partnership between Florilegium and local singers; and for the past three weeks the ensemble has been touring as far afield as Orkney and the Netherlands with the 16 strong Arakaendar Choir from Bolivia.

There was a delightful freshness and energy about the singing from the smiling young Bolivians in Brentner’s Gloria et honore. Two villiancicos by de Araujo were also featured – the first a rhythmic, slightly synchopated song about love, accompanied by David Miller on the baroque guitar; the second a tender lament. Two masses by Bassani offered an interesting contrast: the Missa Santa Ana was brisk and direct, while the second was much more polyphonic and expressive. It also demonstrated how accomplished the young singers were.

Florilegium performed a number of instrumental pieces found in the mission stations not all of which were attributable but probably copied down from European sources. One of the sonatas chiquitanas could be identified as by Balbi and the Toccata in D minor, played on the chamber organ by Terence Charleston was by Dominico Zipoli, an Italian composer who went to Argentina as a missionary and was never heard of again. Fortunately his music lives on in such pieces as the Te Deum which the Arakaendar Choir sang with great fervour.

The audience was given a taste of non-Baroque Bolivian popular music for an encore. This was the lively song Little Orange for which Ashley Solomon produced his Baroque recorder and joined with the other musicians in the general merriment.

Roger Jones