CLASSICAL MUSIC has had a longer and livelier history in Latin America than in our northern culture. The Renaissance culture of New Spain not only got to the Southern Hemisphere first, but also Latin America was much more interested in music than the Puritan society of New England.

The Spanish settlers brought over and continued a European musical tradition indistinguishable from that of their homeland: They composed polyphonic religious music and lively dance tunes and taught the native peoples to sing and play in European styles. They also adapted indigenous music for use in churches and achieved a kind of cultural synthesis that never happened in the United States.

One concert or one compact disc can only begin to explore the riches of that synthesis, but an impressive beginning is made by Hesperus on "Spain in the New World." Particularly notable on this disc are the singing of soprano Rosa Lamoreaux (in Spanish and Quechua) and the brilliant recorder playing of Scott Reiss, but the whole ensemble plays impressively in two-dozen selections from 16th-century Spain and 16th- to 18th-century Latin America that are fresh, attractive and seldom heard.

HESPERUS -- "Spain in the New World" (Golden Apple). Appearing Sunday at Meridian House. Call 202/667-6800.