Saturday, April 11, 2015

Semana Santa in Popayán: Wednesday of Holy Week

[We continue J. Richard Haefer's account of this year's Festival de Música Religiosa de Popayán.]

The Coro de Cámera ‘Arcadia’, a semi-professional chorus from Medellín, presented a concert of predominantly 20th-century religious music. Due to the variety of contemporary vocal expressions and harmonies the works are best suited for concert performance and not for church usage. The opening Kyrie by the Argentinean composer Alberto Balzanelli (b. 1941) utilized Sprechstimme, whispers, shouts, and dissonant harmonies in seconds and constant interaction of all of these elements. A hugh dynamic climax ended the Christe section. The word Kyrie was probably repeated more than a hundred times. Though not suitable for Mass it was a very interesting piece and very well presented. Some of his many contemporary religious compositions can be heard on YouTube.

The exact identity of the composer of the Salve Regina was unclear from the program but I believe it to be the Venezuelan César Alejandro Carrillo and not the Puerto Rican Carlos Carillo. Both have written contemporary religious music as did the Mexican Julio Carrillo who composed for more than 32 divisions of the octave. The Salve Regina provided a more pleasant melody than that of Balzanelli, however, alternating modal and tonal harmonies with sections of much dissonance. Czech Composer L. Zedneck’s [Zdněk?] Parabolas Salomonis (text based on Venerable Bede’s writings) may be characterized as very dissonant with much “shouting” of the text. Similar to the previous was Javier Busto Sagrado’s O Magnum Mysterium with male Sprechstimme over dissonant oohs and hums of the ladies ending with extremely loud dynamics. Busto is a prolific composer of religious music for various voicings. Arcadia Director Cecilia Espinosa’s forte is the presentation of contemporary music but unfortunately the overall sound seemed the same with predominant blend problems in the soprano section.

The latter half of the concert provided a nice change of harmonies beginning with Bruckner’s motet Os justi (1879) based on the Gradual of the Commune Doctorum. (Vulgate, Ps. 36). The choir struggled with the Lydian mode but was able to recover. The motet ends with a short Alleluia sung in unison and repeated. Tallis’ Lamentations of Jeremiah (a text for Holy Thursday) was written as two motets. The choir performed both the Aleph and Beth sections, the latter a nice predominantly homorhythmic section, composed in five voice parts performed as SATTB though they lacked any subtlety and again the sopranos dominated the sound. Victoria’s Sancta Maria sucurre miseria was a much better presentation, though there were intonation problems in many of the melismas. The choir appeared tired throughout the second half of the program. O vos omnes by the Catalan Pau Casals (1876-1973) began with two-voice male imitative lines, gradually adding the alto and soprano lines to moderately modern harmonies, thus ending the religious works.

Secular compositions by F. Ochoa ("Rising Sun"), V. Agudelo (Ensalada de verdugas, a silly song sung in chef hats and aprons with spoons and bowls for rhythm instruments), and A. Gallo (Invierno) concluded the program. Interspersed was a nice villancico by J. de Aroujo, Los Coflades de la Estleya.
Written for two soloists and chorus, the Coro performed it with baroque guitar accompaniment and drum and hand clapping. The performance was the highlight of the program for me. While contemporary music appears to be the emphasis of the conductor and chorus, their overall sound was monotonous despite the variety of vocal techniques in the music.

One of the best performances of the Festival de Música Religiosa de Popayán occurred at 5PM in the theatre. The brilliant Colombian baritone Valeriano Lanchas performed the complete Schubert’s Der Winterreise. Not religious, but spectacular! [Here he performs Verdi's Confutatis.]

No religious music for Holy Thursday’s concerts, but perhaps I will write more about the Processions and the music accompanying them.