This could be considered I suppose as our first foray into the deluge of Christmas music CDs coming up. It is a trio of chamber choral works which use folk music idioms and are accompanied by various folk instruments. This music of the people is very innocent and direct in nature and full of beautiful melodies and colorful instrumental backing. Ramirez’ Misa Criolla comes from Argentina but has been performed worldwide and has had several recordings. Both it and his version of the Christmas story, Navidad Nuestra, are not arrangements of actual folk music but the composer’s own personal artistic recreation of music in the folk style. The Andean instruments add a delightful and evocative color to the work. Ramirez was the first to write a liturgical mass in the Catholic tradition but using Spanish instead of Latin. There is a fine version of both works on a Philips CD featuring noted tenor Jose Carreras. This new recording often uses a pair and sometimes three tenors instead of just one and the harpsichord part of the Carreras version is replaced with guitar. The Naxos recording is more transparent sonically.
The Missa Luba was arranged by a priest at a mission in the Belgian Congo in the 1950s. It adapts traditional Congolese melodies and rhythms to the five movements of the mass and uses the Latin text. The instrumental ensemble is entirely percussion, which propels the rhythmic ostinatos under the melodies. The percussion ensemble gets to wail in improvisational passages in the Credo section. Three different chamber choirs were used for the three masses – each consisting of about 50 singers. The Choral Arts Society of Washington is one of the country’s major symphonic choruses, made up of 200 professional-caliber volunteer singers (of which one is Ann Stahmer, who now writes disc reviews for Audiophile Audition).
– John Sunier