When we think of baroque music, we are likely to hear in our mind’s ear the towering architecture of Bach, the brilliant conceits of Handel, perhaps the shimmering confections of Scarlatti or Corelli or Vivaldi, played against a carved and gilded backdrop in Vienna, London, perhaps Venice or Milan. What we don’t think of is the natural grandeur of Bolivia or the Colonial period of Spanish rule in the New World.
There’s really no reason not to: Central and South America, and large portions of North America, were in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries an integral part of the cultural life of Spain, which itself was an integral part of Europe. It should be no surprise, then, to find in the musical archives of Chiquitos or Moxos, two of the more important mission establishments in Bolivia, works (often fragmentary, and usually unattributed) by such as Pietro Locatelli, Jan Josef Ignác Brentner, Giovanni Batista Bassani, and Ignacio Balbi, not to mention that towering (and protean) presence in ancient music, Anonymous. (This list includes only those composers whose works are recorded on this disc; works by Corelli, Sammartini, and others are also present. In fact, Corelli seems to have been all the rage at Chiquitos.)
The works presented in this collection are all from those archives and represent, among other things, the fruits of dedicated and sometimes inspired musicological detective work: the works by Brentner, for example, were completely unattributed in the materials from the archives. And, of course, given not only the fact that the archives were part of missionary outposts but also the temper of the time, probably the majority of the works represented were what I usually lump together under the term “Church music”: hymns, masses, motets and other works or parts of works meant to be played within or around the liturgy.
Florilegium, an ensemble based in Europe, has a broad repertoire focused in the music of the baroque and classical periods. For this recording and its predecessor, music director Ashley Solomon assembled a chorus of Bolivian singers as well as locating Don Januario, a native violinist who had taught Florilegium a traditional Bolivian folk tune, which he has recorded here.
These are not the large-scale blockbusters of the baroque era, but rather a group of works of the kind that were regularly performed in the course of the year. Locatelli’s Sonata No. X, for example, is a charming piece, with a sweetly limpid andante, but not something to knock your socks off, although the allegro assai from Balbi’s Sonata No. IX does show some of the fire one might expect. Brentner’s Glóia et honóre achieves in some passages a vivid intensity. The traditional Bolivian song performed by Don Januario and Florilegium, as arranged by the latter, does present an intriguing blend of the Old World and the New that verges into some of the better New Age renditions of traditional South American melodies.
This is, when all is said and done, a collection for the enthusiast. Don’t expect a Mass in B Minor or a Messiah, or even a Four Seasons. For those who have strong interest in the baroque or in the history of South America, Bolivian Baroque presents what could be an eye-opening experience.
(Channel Classics, 2007)