RAMIREZ: Missa Criolla / Navidad Nuestra / Missa Luba (Naxos: 8.557542)
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Ariel Ramirez (b.1921): Navidad Nuestra Misa Criolla
arr. Guido Haazen (20th century): Missa Luba
Like the Misa Criolla, Ariel Ramirez composedNavidad Nuestra (Our Nativity) in 1964. For the sixepisodes of this Creole tableau with Spanish texts byFelix Luna (b.1925), the composer availed himself ofdances and songs of Argentine musical traditions thatare indicated in the score. From the characteristicmelodic 6/8 rhythms in the dance types chamame inLa Anunciacion and the chaya riojana in Los Pastores,to the gracious lyricism of the huella pampeana inLa Peregrinacion and the vidalas from Catamarca inEl Nacimiento, Ramirez evokes a wide range ofexpressions from traditional Argentine music. Luna'ssix poems narrate the universally known episodes of theChristmas story from the annunciation through the birthto the flight to Egypt from Herod's sacrifice of children.
Far from the original Bethlehem, Luna locates the storyin the north of his native Argentina, alluding inparticular to the moon of the Rioja in the poem aboutthe adoration by the shepherds. The text, in Castilian,interpolates words in the indigenous guarani language;in La Anunciacion, for example, the Virgin Mary isdescribed as la mas bonita cunatai (the most beautifulof all maids) and the angel Gabriel arrives cate whichtranslates roughly as 'sharp-looking'. Other nativeelements in the text portray the country people to whomthe work is dedicated. Telling examples are the offeringby the Three Kings of a poncho blanco de alpaca real(a white poncho of the finest alpaca) and the referencesto local instruments such as the cajas, guitars andbombo leg??ero. As well, there are three references todrinks made from the algarrobo blanco tree - aloja(beer), anapa (a non-alcoholic beverage) and arrope(a thick, sweet syrup).
Ramirez's original instrumentation includesharpsichord or piano, guitar, bongos, tenor and baritonesolos, chorus, jingle bells or cascabeles, high drumswith sticks and low drums with hands. The arrangementfor this recording incorporates two violins in the firsttwo movements, three guitars, percussion and bassthroughout, three tenors in the first, fourth and sixthmovements with Jose Sacin singing the solo in the thirdmovement, and a featured performance in the fourthmovement by Carmen de Vicente, one of the world'sonly concert castanet performers.
In 1954 Father Guido Haazen, a missionaryestablished in the Belgian Congo, now DemocraticRepublic of Congo, created the chorus Les troubadoursdu Roi Baudouin. Four years later, based on theperformances of these African singers, Haazen arrangedMissa Luba from their improvisations. Thiscomposition adapted traditional Congolese melodiesand rhythms to the five movements of the ordinary ofthe Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and AgnusDei) with the text in Latin.
Missa Luba is scored for tenor soloist, mixedchorus, and three percussionists playing the Africannative drums djembe, congas, and ngoma drum. Theguiro replaces the gourd or African sakasaka in thisrecording. As the sole instrumental force in Missa Luba,the percussion carries forward the incisive rhythmicostinatos that sustain the melodic discourse, often inresponsorial form between the male and female voices.
Reflecting African popular expression, the musicaloutcome invites corporal movement during worship.
Equally idiosyncratic is the improvisational character ofthe work, despite being notated, which challengesperformers in the Western tradition. As noted in thepreface to the published score, 'if desired this writtenversion of the Mass may be used as a suitablespringboard for those who will venture upon their ownnew creation of this original African Mass.' For theversion heard in this recording, an alto replaces thetenor solo with her unique improvisations, the choralarrangement incorporates different combinations ofvoices, and the final improvisations in the Agnus Deiare achieved with all voices creating an inspirationalchant conceived at the moment. The score indicatesimprovisational passages for percussion in the Credowhich are brilliantly performed by the percussionensemble.
The accomplishment of Ariel Ramirez with MisaCriolla is beyond comparison; over forty years after itscreation in 1964, this Mass is considered one of theutmost expressions of popular music in Argentina, andhas transcended borders to become appealing toaudiences worldwide. Even Ramirez, a composer of along-standing career, could not have foreseen that MisaCriolla would become his most famous work among avast output comprising compositions for chorus, voiceand piano.
Musically speaking, Misa Criolla falls into acategory somewhere between strict academic musicand urban popular music but, ultimately, Ramirez'scomposition does not intend to preserve folklore but toachieve an artistic recreation of folk-derived traitswithin a personal compositional style. Misa Criollaconsists of musical settings of the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo,Sanctus, and Agnus Dei with liturgical texts in Spanishand is one of the first Catholic Masses to be composedin a language other than Latin. Each part of the Mass isbased on either traditional Argentine dances or songs:the vidala-baguala for the Kyrie, refers to the lyricalvocal form of Bolivia and northern Argentina. Ascustomary in performances of bagualas, the Kyrie inMisa Criolla is accompanied by two tenor drums,corresponding to the bombo argentino. In a liveliermood, the Gloria uses the carnavalito-yaravi, a dancefrom the Andean region. The same dance, the carnivalcochabambino (variant form from Cochabamba,Bolivia) sets the mood for the Sanctus. The Credo usesa dance, the chacarera, and for the Agnus Dei Ramirezdraws on the emotionally charged song type from thePampas, the plains of the province of Buenos Aires,named as estilo pampeano. The balance of the fivesettings is achieved through the use of two lyrical formsfor the more introspective opening and closing parts ofthe Mass, Kyrie and Agnus Dei respectively, and threedances for the dynamic middle section (Gloria, Credo,and Sanctus). The Mass is written for tenor, mixedchorus, percussion, Andean instruments, double bassand harpsichord or piano. It should be noted thatRamirez is considered today the first within the'nativist' tradition to introduce the piano in theperformance of traditional music in Argentina. In thisrecording, however, the charango, a small guitar madeof an armadillo shell, and the guitar have replaced thekeyboard part. The Andean notched flute, quena, andthe panpipes, siku, which are also featured in thisrecording, follow the Argentine criollo tradition wherethey usually accompany the charango, the guitar andthe bombo. The popular character of Misa Criollainspires different interpretations: in this recording, abreath-taking improvisation is played by Luis Garay onthe tumbadoras, two tom-toms in the Credo as amoment of dramatic reflection between the phrasesseated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty andfrom thence he shall come to judge the living and thedead. Scott Hill and Gonzalo Cortes created a verybeautiful and haunting introduction to the Agnus Dei,setting the mood for this plaintive and soulfulmovement.Esperanza Berrocal