CD Review: Salsa Baroque with Ensemble Caprice



Recordings of baroque music from Spain and Latin America have proliferated in the last few years, as well as concerts that either feature or include the repertoire, especially among a number of North American ensembles. Personally, I welcome any and all interest since it enriches its modern performance tradition, offers audiences new and varied concert programs, and inspires other groups to follow suit.

When I read that Ensemble Caprice released a CD of select Spanish and Latin American Baroque music, I was genuinely excited. They’ve been putting out great recordings on the Analekta label for years. Director Matthias Maute and the ensemble have a way of delivering terrific performances of old warhorses and new discoveries. So, what’s not to be excited about?

Unfortunately, their new recording, “Salsa Baroque,” is a disappointment.

The program consists of a seemingly random selection of pieces without rhyme or reason for their order (more of a sampler recording than one of the ensemble’s usual taut and finely developed concepts). Most of the vocal works are party pieces that have been recorded many times over by other ensembles, primarily for their accessibility—the music is easy to acquire (and attractive to audiences).

I don’t know if that’s necessarily true for this recording, but the appearance of the usual suspects is a strong clue—Tleycantimo choquiliya (Fernandes), Los conflades de la estleya (Araujo), Convidando está la noche (Zespedes), and Tarará (Salazar). The latter received a most unorthodox interpretation—none of the verses, where the story actually takes place, were recorded (just three statements of the refrain).

Henry Bailly’s Spanish song Yo soy la locura, “I am folly,” was a peculiar addition, to say the least. It doesn’t come from either Spain or Latin America, but France; and is, in fact, part of the French air de cour tradition. Admittedly, it’s an absolutely lovely song that deserves to be recorded, and it has been, yet it belongs in a different program.

I enjoyed the beautiful organ and guitar solos, but found the instrumental arrangements of organ pieces from Martin y Coll’s Flores de música overly orchestrated—a quality especially apparent in the Chacona. There are few instrumental models from 17th-century Spain to refer to, which makes the problem of arranging organ music for an ensemble more acute. Nevertheless, the solutions presented were less than convincing.

Overall, the singing was wonderful; each and every vocalist gave a first-rate performance. The Spanish pronunciation was excellent, clearly showing a high level of attention to detail. The instrumental-playing possessed an immense amount of energy and spirit, without question.

In the end, I strongly hesitate to recommend this recording for the disappointments stated above, which is unfortunate because Ensemble Caprice is a world-class group. However, there are plenty of other recordings of theirs to enjoy, beginning with Telemann and the Gypsies.

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