On Cinco de Mayo, Bach Sinfonia celebrates Latin American baroque music

May 6, 2013

What emerged instantly from Sunday’s Bach Sinfonia program of exuberant Latin American baroque music was the powerful urge to move. It was, after all, Cinco de Mayo, a time to kick up your heels and sing.

Conductor Daniel Abraham led his chamber-size group of choristers, vocal soloists and instrumentalists through recently discovered and, as yet rarely heard, music from the New World of Central, Caribbean and South America. Until a few scholars discovered piles of forgotten musical manuscripts in old churches and even in jungles, this music waited three or four centuries to be performed. Sunday’s concert was “a rare event for this region,” Abraham said, “but in 20 years, this music will be a staple of the baroque repertoire.”

Choral diction and phrasing were so clear that words sounded like dialogue. Even for solemn sacred settings, such as the Mass “Ego Flos Campi,” rhythm propelled the singers and instruments, the voices arranged in a double-choir format to respond to one another with electric energy.

Abraham and his group offer enlightening and entertaining theme-based programs. Sunday’s was no exception. Presented at the Montgomery College Cultural Arts Center in Silver Spring, the concert featured choral music from the 17th and 18th centuries, including samples from Mexico, Guatemala, Spain, Bolivia, Cuba, Argentina and Peru. The styles from each country intermix those imported from Spain, indigenous peoples and Africa. All these sources are complex mixes of different, even conflicting, classical and pop-folk styles. Latin America consequently enjoyed a rich cultural life in the baroque years, fueled largely by the Spanish Habsburgs’ manic desire to acquire the New World’s wealth of precious metals and to convert native populations to Christianity. That, in turn, meant exporting Jesuit priests, often composers, to do the job.

Joined at times by soprano Emily Noel and bass Mark Duer, soprano Jennifer Ellis Kampani’s vigorous solos enlivened the group. Guitarist Richard Savino offered accompaniment and improvisations.


Daniel Abraham conducting Bach Sinfonia. (David Stuck/David Stuck)

Porter is a freelance writer.

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