...refreshing, illuminating and downright beautiful...
Andrew McGregor 2002
'Legend would have it that the angels descended from heaven in 1531 to construct the city which came to be called Puebla de los Angeles, strategically placed on the road from Mexico City to the port of Veracruz'.
The opening words of the booklet for the Harp Consort's new cd Missa Mexicana. What a crossroads this turned out to be, if this gorgeous entertainment is anything to go by. Old Spain meets New Spain in the cathedral at Puebla - renaissance mass settings and Latin motets rubbing shoulders with secular entertainments, popular songs, African rhythms, and a mixture of Spanish with native Indian languages and dancers from Guinea, Peurto Rico and Cuba.
Ok, we can't have all that on a cd like this one, but there are such exotic sounds and colours to revel in, such vivid, entertaining and downright breathtaking performances, that given the help of Andrew Lawrence-King's notes, your imagination can compensate. The Missa Ego flos campi by Padilla is the framework, a proper parody mass tinged with evangelical outbursts and touched by the secular dance music that surrounds it in this recording.
The largely improvised continuo accompaniments are tremendously characterful: Mexican baroque guitars, Andrew Lawrence-King's harp, the deeply satisfying twang of the theorbo...and while you suspect that the voices are perhaps better schooled and more northern European in sound than their 17th century counterparts in Pueblo, that's not to say that they're bland or characterless. Then we hear soprano Clara Sanabras on her own in a Peruvian Marizapalos full of earthy double-entendres, and any remaining reservations are swept aside by a truly magical piece of singing.
Its not an obvious hit, this, but it deserves to sell by the shed-load. Missa Mexicana is one of the most refreshing, illuminating and downright beautiful cds of early music I've heard for months, and I've already lost count of the number of times I've played it. Any cd filled with composers most of us have never heard of that can make you smile with delight, want to dance to its infectious xacara, then bring a lump to the throat with the sheer beauty of the singing, has to be auditioned. The warm, atmospheric recording with its background of distant birdsong is a bonus.
Hear it for yourself, then pass the word round to anyone you know who loves to be surprised by non-mainstream music. It's one of the discs of the year, without a shadow of a doubt...anyway, when did you last hear a conch shell played in anger?!