ARIEL RAMIREZ: Misa Criolla and more music from the South American Folk Tradition for Chorus and Native Instruments – Counterpoint and Friends/Robert DeCormier, director – Albany Records

by | Nov 27, 2006 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

ARIEL RAMIREZ: Misa Criolla and more music from the South American Folk Tradition for Chorus and Native Instruments – Counterpoint and Friends/Robert DeCormier, director – Albany Records 746, 58:36 ****:
 
In 1967, Argentinean composer Ariel Ramirez became internationally known when his Misa Criolla (Mass in Native Style, which he had composed in 1964) received its first performances and was recorded.  Since then, this immensely popular composition has been performed many times around the world.  In his native country, Ramirez is revered and admired for his ability to compose music that is deeply religious yet accessible to everyone. His compositions challenge the performers as they work to master the captivating rhythms and lovely melodies of his music.  At the same time, the finished products are easy for listeners to enjoy and embrace as a fine example of folk traditions that have become art music.  Ramirez is much like his music: engaging, approachable, knowledgeable yet modest about his considerable success.
 
So, it is only fitting that someone like Robert DeCormier record Ramirez’ music.  DeCormier has many of the same qualities as Ramirez; and he has made it a personal campaign for decades to research, arrange, and record international folk music. DeCormier is a well-known and respected composer and arranger who has taken many folksongs and arranged them for choirs. Many of us grew up singing his delightful (and sometimes very challenging!) choral arrangements. DeCormier learned about American folk music at the feet of some of the best.  He was a part of the folk music movement in this country during the age of people like Pete Seeger, and he is the longtime music director for Peter, Paul and Mary.  (If you are not familiar with my last reference, please find and listen to one of their excellent recordings.)  He also was the conductor of The New York Choral Society for many years and composed for that group.
 
I currently own four different recordings of both Misa Criolla and Navidad Nuestra, and each has a unique flavor.  The different directorial interpretations provide an interesting contrast and foster an appreciation of the value of looking at the same music from many different angles.  There is always something to be said for preserving the original interpretation of the composer; but as we all know, what exactly that was can be left open to endless discussion.  Since I know both pieces intimately (having performed and recorded them), I take great enjoyment from exploring new ways of using the wonderful material Ramirez provided to blaze new paths of musical understanding.  DeCormier seems to know just how to treat this music in a way that preserves the original flavor of the pieces.  His singers perform the music with a sense of joy that makes me share their obvious enjoyment of the moment.  The soloists are wonderful: clear-voiced and expressive.  The entire ensemble sang with a sound that was just blended enough yet not too much, so that the folk music approach was preserved.  I especially loved the top sopranos in the chorus; they were so clear on the very high notes that I was in awe of their sound and wished I could duplicate it.  

The fine instrumental ensemble augmented the singers’ performance graciously and authentically. The other pieces on this disc whetted my appetite for more of this delicious music from the other Americas, and awakened my curiosity to find these scores so I can introduce them to my choral director friends.
 
Tracklist:  Misa Criolla, La Llamita, Arbolucu, te Sequeste, Yambambo, Navidad Nuestra, Por el camino, Egbegi, Misa por la paz y la justicia (excerpts).
 
-Ann Stahmer