Having touched briefly on New World repertoire in their previous release ‘Ay Portugal’ (ABC Classics), Melbourne-based ensemble La Compañia go the whole hog here with a disc of music from late-Renaissance Mexico (with two Peruvian exceptions). Consisting of catchily cheerful villancicos and other short pieces on lightly borne sacred subjects by cathedral musicians of European origin such as Gaspar Fernandes, Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla and Juan de Araujo, but reflecting local styles, preoccupations and even languages, this is the kind of South American repertoire that Isabel Palacios’s Camerata de Caracas enjoyably brought to light in the 1990s (A/00), and which has since been successfully promoted over three CDs by Ex Cathedra (8/03, 6/08). (It should not to be confused, however, with the more staid stuff of Florilegium’s ‘Bolivian Baroque’ discs.)
Ex Cathedra inevitably give works like Araujo’s Ay andar, Zéspedes’s Convidando está la noche and the ubiquitous Hanacpachap cussicuinin a choral slant but La Compañia’s approach is more small-scale and intimate, with emphasis on the wind instruments which, according to the booklet-notes, were preferred to strings in the New World. Several of the works are performed without voices on fruitily satisfying combinations of shawm, cornett, dulcians and sackbuts, backed up by bass viol, guitars and percussion. The latter certainly help give the syncopations and hemiolas of this music a steady swing, and if the performers here do not exude quite the sense of joyous freedom that their Venezuelan counterparts brought to it (I have seen Palacios conduct Fernandes’s earthy Dame albriçia mano Anton pretty much with her hips), they will still make your body move. The technical standards are also better – the two light-voiced and penetrative singers are certainly superior, if less colourful – and so too is the excellent recorded sound.