Colombia, a richly blessed South American country possessing multifarious natural and human resources, is renowned for its exports of commodities and culture: coffee, minerals, a Nobel Prize-winning author and the music of composer Luis Antonio Escobar.

Escobar's music was the whole of the third concert of the Inter-American Music Festival at the Organization of American States' Hall of the Americas Saturday night. The Manhattan Vocal Ensemble and pianist Cesar Vuksic traded the limelight in a too-brief recital of exquisite art songs and solo piano works before an audience divided in its reception of the performances.

The vocal ensemble, an octet of substantial talent devoted to choral literature from the medieval period to the present, specializes in Latin American music, and rightly so; its performances of 13 of Escobar's "Canticas Colombianas" offered indelible proof to the notion that Spanish is the mother tongue. The group sings with exquisite purity; the syllables roll off effortlessly in pearl-shaped tones, a zygotic union of showmanship and art.

All the "Canticas," and eight madrigals, were short and direct; the vocal blend, separately or in unison, transformed these miniatures based on the lyrics and rhythms of Colombian folklore from an arguably esoteric experience into the larger body of mass acceptance and appreciation--for most. The audience seemed split within a morass of tedium or ecstasy. Perhaps it may be accurate to assume that those who enjoy Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana"--which these works resemble in concept--would have reacted more positively.

Pianist Vuksic exuded great stength and confidence in his interpretation of Three Pieces From "Homenaje a Picasso," inspired by Picasso's paintings, and Five Bambuquerias, preludes for piano based on the quirky melodic patterns of the native Colombian music. Vuksic's sensitive reading ran the emotional gamut, properly balancing burning passion with intellectual reflection. He also accompanied director Nelly Vuksic in two pleasing renditions, a love song and a lullaby.