'Skidmore and his choir … have included the largest of Araujo's liturgical pieces, an imposing Dixit Dominus in eight parts. The colourful, carefully paced sequence is interspersed with sections of an anonymous setting of the Quechua text Hanacpachap Cussicuinin, a Marian hymn that is regarded as the oldest printed piece of polyphony from the Americas. With beautifully varied instrumental support, Ex Cathedra turn it into a hauntingly beautiful processional' (The Guardian)
'Followers of Jeffrey Skidmore's earlier excursions into the Latin American Baroque with his Ex-Cathedra group should need no prompting to buy volume three … Nothing stifles the infectious spark of these mostly secular effusions by the 17th-century Juan de Araujo, cathedral organist in Bolivia. Uplifting, and foot-tapping' (The Times)
'The performances throughout can hardly be faulted. A lovely and varied sonority is created by soloists emerging and returning from the 14-strong choir. The instrumental contribution is equally distinguished, from sensitive continuo of sustained organ and more rhythmically engaging plucked strings, to a positive kaleidoscope of wind and brass in the larger numbers' (BBC Music Magazine)
'… Captures the essence of music informed by the assured grandeur of 16th-century Spanish music, tinged with the colour of native 'Indian' culture and often marked by vibrant echoes of the regions' African slave communities … An unmissable release' (Classic FM Magazine)
'A hugely appealing, atmospheric disc … The reason we should bother with such an obscure composer is clear from the first note - the vivid contrasts and thrilling rhetoric found in Gabrieli and Monteverdi are developed and combined with a magical, dramatic, dark-hued Iberian sensibility' (Sunday Times)
'Araujo is rightly considered to be perhaps the finest composer of his age working in Latin America … This is a captivating, colourful recording which may breathe the stiller London air but audibly relishes the genius of the too-long-neglected Juan de Araujo' (International Record Review)
'Araujo's fusion of European-style vocal techniques with foot-tapping Latino rhythms is a revelation. Bouquets to Hyperion for opening our ears to these riches, and to the Birmingham-based Ex Cathedra vocal and instrumental ensemble, under scholar-director Jeffrey Skidmore, for such engaging performances' (Financial Times)
'It's superbly performed … The most impressive element is the precision, blend and sonority of his singers in a splendid setting of Dixit Dominus. The evocation of a bullfight in Salga el torillo hosquillo (in which the Matador is compared to the Virgin Mary) is thrilling in its energy and drama, and the contemplative serenity of Silencio is breathakingly beautiful … This is a terrific disc' (Gramophone)
'Jeffrey Skidmore not only has this repertoire thoroughly under his skin, but equally the ability to inspire his splendid forces to communicate his enthusiasm for it with colourful immediacy' (Goldberg)
'The performances are glorious. Soloists and choir sing lustily but stylishly, and the instrumental backing is aptly contrived. Even more than in past volumes, I found this release just plain enchanting. Fine notes, full texts and translations. In all, one of those releases that is truly perfect! What an absolute treasure Hyperion has in Skidmore and his confederates!' (American Record Guide)
'The rediscovery of Latin American baroque music was a success story waiting to happen: it combines the dramatic contrasts of texture and the expressive word-setting of the European baroque with the rhythmic energy of New World folk music and the dances of West African slaves … The choral textures are thrilling' (Oxford Today)
'This is a splendid disc and a very worthy successor to the preceding volumes. The standard of performance is unfailingly excellent. Ensemble work, both vocal and instrumental, is tight and the many vocal solos are all taken extremely well. The performances display flair and finesse on the part of all concerned Jeffrey Skidmore’s direction is perceptive, lively and, above all, persuasive. It’s quite astonishing to think of this music being composed and performed in a remote colonial outpost in seventeenth century Latin America and the survival of the music and its revival today is something for which we should be grateful. Juan de Araujo was a fine composer and he has been exceptionally well served here by Jeffrey Skidmore and Ex Cathedra. This is a CD that commands attention' (MusicWeb.com)
'High art meets the reality of the New World, resulting in a new music that modern performers and audiences are just beginning to appreciate … This is exactly what the classical music 'industry' should be about' (PositiveFeedback.com, USA)
'Jeffrey Skidmore continues his exploration of Latin American Baroque music with an imaginatively programmed disc largely devoted to the music of the Spanish-born Juan de Araujo (1648–1712), who spent the final 30 years of his life as organist at the cathedral of La Planta (now Sucre, Bolivia). Judging by what’s here recorded, Araujo was equally at home in sacred and secular pieces: the Dixit Dominus for three choirs is particularly attractive, and his secular music has an irresistible foot-tapping quality. We remain indebted to Skidmore and the fine vocal and instrumental forces of his Ex Cathedra ensembles for resurrecting this material. An important release' (Choir & Organ Magazine)
'Araujo's music is very different: sophisticated and marvellously expressive, and Ex Cathedra makes the most of it. The poetry too is worthy of attention: very enjoyable' (Early Music Review)
'Jeffrey Skidmore and Ex Cathedra of Birmingham have made a hit recently, with their recording of South American music … Another hit which you can't keep out of your mind, released by Hyperion' (Daily Mail)
'The instrumental ensemble is exciting, vital, rhythmically alert … The music of Juan de Araujo … is unquestionably a good find' (Fanfare, USA)
‘For fire burning in snow is the effect of love’. The final line of Juan de Araujo’s Dime, amor gives this recording its title and conjures up the passion and dramatic contrasts which make this disc such a delight. Araujo has been described by many commentators as the greatest Latin American composer of the age, although much of his music is still rarely performed. Little is known about the man (he was a disruptive student in Lima and involved in litigation in La Plata), and there is almost certainly more material to uncover. He was born in Spain in 1648 and emigrated at a young age to South America with his parents. After a period as organist at Lima Cathedral he lived in Panama and Cuzco, where a few of his manuscripts are found, and from 1680 he spent the last thirty-two years of his life as organist at the cathedral of La Plata, now known as the Bolivian judicial capital of Sucre. This disc includes one of his largest pieces, the triple-choir setting in eleven parts of the first great Vesper Psalm Dixit Dominus. This substantial setting is through-composed and vividly captures the dramatic elements in the text with a dazzling display of polychoral techniques. Silencio is a ravishing, double-choir lullaby which makes a complete contrast with the dramatic exchanges in the triple-choir ¡A, del tiempo! and ¡A, de la región de luces!. The fiery ¡Fuego de amor! is written for four choirs. The extraordinary imagination of Araujo in his choice of texts, his sensitivity to word-setting, his melodic, harmonic and textural inventiveness are remarkable, if not breathtaking. Ex Cathedra’s uplifting recordings of Latin American Baroque polyphony are always eagerly awaited, and here they present more great music, hitherto hidden in obscurity but alive with melodic beauty and joy. Performances are infectiously energetic and dazzlingly stylish.
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'For Fire burning in snow / is the effect of love.' The final lines of Juan de Araujo’s Dime, amor give this recording its title. In one sentence this conjures up the passion and dramatic contrasts of the whole continent of South America. These qualities are heard in abundance in the music of Araujo who has been described by many commentators as the greatest composer of the age, although much of his music is still rarely performed. Little is known about the man (he was a disruptive student in Lima and involved in litigation in La Plata), and there is almost certainly more material to uncover. He was born in Spain in 1648 and emigrated at a young age to South America with his parents. After a period as organist at Lima Cathedral he lived in Panama and Cuzco, where a few of his manuscripts are found, and from 1680 he spent the last thirty-two years of his life as organist at the cathedral of La Plata, now known as the Bolivian judicial capital of Sucre.
I visited this beautiful, ‘white’ city in May 2004 on my second research trip to Latin America. Also named the ‘Athens of America’, it is situated at an altitude of almost 3,000 metres in a highland valley, surrounded by gentle, fertile, low mountains. I can clearly remember the exhilarating crystal-clear air and deep blue sky as I sat on the terrace of the Hostal de Su Merced, sipping a soothing post-lunch pot of coca tea. This brought to mind the priest-seats on the roof of the nearby church of Convento de San Felipe Neri and seemed to be close to heaven. Also just around the corner from the hotel was the ABNB (the sparkling-new Bolivian National Library), and the cathedral, whose bells still call out to worshippers. The cathedral is small by South American standards but light and sunny. At the east and west ends are two galleries, one of which still contains the case of a seventeenth- or eighteenth-century organ. The service I attended was accompanied by an electric keyboard! Local markets are full of colour and the rich, apparently bountiful produce of the surrounding region. And yet Bolivia is one of the world’s poorest countries and the contrast between rich and poor is immense, as it was in colonial times. Sucre was built on the wealth of the silver mines in nearby Potosí, which at 4,090 metres is the world’s highest city and in the eighteenth century was also the richest and one of the largest. It has been estimated that eight million native Indians and black African slaves lost their lives in the mines between 1545 and 1825.
I should like to believe that Araujo was a good man. He was certainly a skilled musician, choir-trainer and director. He was at ease in the strict academic style required in liturgical music and equally at home in the foot-tapping style of the villancicos. Several of his pieces have already captured our imaginations: ¡Ay andar!, set at a euphoric dance-party; Los coflades, a ‘black’ processional piece perhaps dedicated to the African slaves who survived the mines and established communities in the Yungas to the north east of La Paz; ¡Aquí, Valentónes!, addressing the problems of gang-land. Araujo seems to have been in touch with the grass-roots. This recording presents eleven pieces (including one by Salazar) of which nine have never, to my knowledge, been recorded before.
There are few liturgical pieces in Araujo’s output. Here we record one of the largest pieces, the triple-choir setting in eleven parts of the first great Vesper Psalm Dixit Dominus. This substantial setting is through-composed and vividly captures the dramatic elements in the text with a dazzling display of polychoral techniques. Two triple-time sections recall the typical, toe-tapping black notation found in the villancicos and it is hard to imagine any resistance, at least from the musicians and congregation, to adding percussion at these points. The final ‘Amen’ achieves a suitably flamboyant and climactic flourish.
The vast majority of Araujo’s surviving works are non-liturgical pieces in the popular villancico style. These are now collected together in the Bolivian National Library. Ex Cathedra explores the complete range, including intimate duets and quartets, and works for two, three and four choirs. En el muy gran Padre Ignacio is an energetic and enthusiastic tribute to St Ignatius and contrasts with the soothing sensuality of the love duet Dios de amor. The exquisite quartet Dime, amor for three upper voices and bajón demonstrates Araujo’s gift for melody and his expressive use of harmony, while the light-footed, explosive energy shown in ¡A, del cielo! reveals this master composer equally at ease in conjuring up breathless excitement. Silencio is a ravishing, double-choir lullaby which makes a complete contrast with the dramatic exchanges in the triple-choir ¡A, del tiempo! and ¡A, de la región de luces!. The fiery ¡Fuego de amor! is written for four choirs. The extraordinary imagination of Araujo in his choice of texts, his sensitivity to word-setting, his melodic, harmonic and textural inventiveness is remarkable, if not breathtaking.
Araujo had a good set-up at Sucre Cathedral and he was able to make use of skilled professional singers and expert instrumentalists supplemented by native Americans and African slaves (yanaconas). The only instruments specified in the manuscripts are organ, harp and violin but many more were available, including cornetts, sackbuts, shawms, curtals (bajón and bajoncillo), flutes, harps, lutes, guitars and a wide range of percussion. Recent research suggests that instrumentalists were extremely versatile and a player listed as cantor, chirimía or ministril was probably able to play several instruments. The wind band tradition continued in Latin America long after it became obsolete in Europe and it gives the modern performer a wonderful palette of colours to play with.
One of the most popular pieces from our recent recordings has been the bull-fighting re-enactment ¡Salga el torillo hosquillo!, which appears in the Bolivian National Library in two versions. This new version is dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe. The refrain has only minor changes but the verses are now scored for alto soloist with the text no longer transforming the matador into the Christ Child but into the Virgin Mary. Next to Sucre Cathedral is the small Capilla de la Virgen de Guadalupe which was completed in 1625, and which houses the priceless bejewelled statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe with its dazzling diamonds, amethysts, pearls, rubies and emeralds. Annually, on the evening of 8 September, the Feast of the Virgin is celebrated. The following day colourful parades process around the square displaying religious images and silver arches. It must have been a similar celebration for which Salga was adapted in the eighteenth century.
Hanacpachap cussicuinin is another piece which has proved immensely popular. It is credited with being the oldest printed polyphony in the Americas (1631) and appears at the end of Juan de Peréz Bocanegra’s Ritual formularia, a manual for priests written in Quechua and Spanish with reference to Christian and Inca traditions. Bocanegra was a Franciscan parish priest, university teacher and cathedral singer who clearly worked closely and sympathetically with Andean peasants. He worked in Lima and Cuzco and had many disputes with the Jesuits. Hanac is a Christian hymn in adoration of the Virgin Mary, written entirely in Quechua. It is set for four voices in Sapphic verse to be sung in procession. There are twenty verses and this is the first complete recording, making full use of the choir and band in a variety of orchestrations. Each verse has five eight-syllable lines followed by a four-syllable phrase, printed in italics in the original manuscript. This phrase is often an epithet and sometimes acts as a link to the next verse. The complex language is full of extraordinarily colourful Christian, celestial and Indian imagery.
Jeffrey Skidmore © 2008
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