Ensemble Caprice: ‘Salsa Baroque’, Playhouse, October 15, 2015.

Early Music Vancouver showed their customary expertise in finding exciting music in the byways of the Baroque repertoire and putting it on stage.  On this occasion, it was ‘Salsa Baroque’ – the baroque music of Latin America, a uniquely enriching fusion of Aztec, African and American Indian influences within a dominant Spanish idiom.  One likely could have not found a more capable or committed group of musicians to bring this to life than Quebec’s Ensemble Caprice.  Their almost 30 selections from the repertoire of Spanish language secular music from the 17th and 18th centuries were diverse, entertaining and sophisticated. 

The composers featured at this concert all lived during the time of Spain’s most expansive world influence. These include the likes of Gaspar Fernandes (c. 1570-1629), whose roughly 250 compositions comprise the largest source of 17th-century New World secular music, Juan de Araujo (1648-1712), and  Juan García de Zéspedes (1619-1678), the latter distinguishing himself by his attempt to mix African rhythms with European counterpoint.   Among others, we hear Spanish instrumental works from the vast 4-volume collection of Antonio Martín y Coll (1671-1734), and from Santiago de Murcia (1673-1739), noted for the variety of his dance rhythms.

Photo: Jan Gates

Photo: Jan Gates

Ensemble Caprice put all this music together in a cohesive attacca style.  This felt natural, and increased one’s immersion, since none of the pieces were more than several minutes long.  Most of these were doubtlessly intended for the entertainment of aristocracy, minor courts, and military functions alike.  Led by flautist Matthias Maute, Ensemble Caprice really threw themselves into this music with great enthusiasm and élan, with a sense of the dramatic.  Maute’s playing is exceptional both on both recorder and transverse flute, and he is sensitively matched with flautist Sophie Larivière, a most musical pairing.  The Spanish baroque saw the guitar begin its meteoric rise to prominence as the ‘accompaniment’ instrument par excellence, and guitarist David Jacques rose to equal heights in both his solo and continuo playing.  As originally influenced by Arabian music and the early Moorish occupation of Spain, it became apparent just how Spanish composers extended their polyglot aesthetic once the New World came into importance.

Anonymous works, collected or published in Argentina and Peru, such as Hanacpachap cussicuinin, Lanchas para baylar, and Wainjo suggest rhythms that originate in Africa, Europe, and South America.  As played here, these create a pastiche of incredible beauty. Percussionist Ziya Tabassian and distinguished cellist Susie Napper provided the admirable harmonic and rhythmic base from which to launch this music so convincingly.

Ensemble Caprice’s travels on the byways of ‘Salsa Baroque’ were both delightful and entertaining.  Yet they entranced for another reason: in aiming for historical authenticity, the ensemble partially re-created, and brought to life, a musical/cultural setting that most of us had never really thought of.    

© Kate Mackin 2015