About this Recording
8.557542 - RAMIREZ: Misa Criolla / Navidad Nuestra / Missa Luba
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Ariel Ramírez (b.1921): Navidad Nuestra • Misa Criolla
arr. Guido Haazen (20th century): Missa Luba

Like the Misa Criolla, Ariel Ramírez composed Navidad Nuestra (Our Nativity) in 1964. For the six episodes of this Creole tableau with Spanish texts by Félix Luna (b.1925), the composer availed himself of dances and songs of Argentine musical traditions that are indicated in the score. From the characteristic melodic 6/8 rhythms in the dance types chamamé in La Anunciación and the chaya riojana in Los Pastores, to the gracious lyricism of the huella pampeana in La Peregrinación and the vidalas from Catamarca in El Nacimiento, Ramírez evokes a wide range of expressions from traditional Argentine music. Luna’s six poems narrate the universally known episodes of the Christmas story from the annunciation through the birth to the flight to Egypt from Herod’s sacrifice of children. Far from the original Bethlehem, Luna locates the story in the north of his native Argentina, alluding in particular to the moon of the Rioja in the poem about the adoration by the shepherds. The text, in Castilian, interpolates words in the indigenous guaraní language; in La Anunciación, for example, the Virgin Mary is described as la más bonita cuñatai (the most beautiful of all maids) and the angel Gabriel arrives caté which translates roughly as ‘sharp-looking’. Other native elements in the text portray the country people to whom the work is dedicated. Telling examples are the offering by the Three Kings of a poncho blanco de alpaca real (a white poncho of the finest alpaca) and the references to local instruments such as the cajas, guitars and bombo legüero. As well, there are three references to drinks made from the algarrobo blanco tree – aloja (beer), añapa (a non-alcoholic beverage) and arrope (a thick, sweet syrup).

Ramírez’s original instrumentation includes harpsichord or piano, guitar, bongos, tenor and baritone solos, chorus, jingle bells or cascabeles, high drums with sticks and low drums with hands. The arrangement for this recording incorporates two violins in the first two movements, three guitars, percussion and bass throughout, three tenors in the first, fourth and sixth movements with José Sacin singing the solo in the third movement, and a featured performance in the fourth movement by Carmen de Vicente, one of the world’s only concert castanet performers.

In 1954 Father Guido Haazen, a missionary established in the Belgian Congo, now Democratic Republic of Congo, created the chorus Les troubadours du Roi Baudouin. Four years later, based on the performances of these African singers, Haazen arranged Missa Luba from their improvisations. This composition adapted traditional Congolese melodies and rhythms to the five movements of the ordinary of the Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei) with the text in Latin.

Missa Luba is scored for tenor soloist, mixed chorus, and three percussionists playing the African native drums djembe, congas, and ngoma drum. The guiro replaces the gourd or African sakasaka in this recording. As the sole instrumental force in Missa Luba, the percussion carries forward the incisive rhythmic ostinatos that sustain the melodic discourse, often in responsorial form between the male and female voices. Reflecting African popular expression, the musical outcome invites corporal movement during worship. Equally idiosyncratic is the improvisational character of the work, despite being notated, which challenges performers in the Western tradition. As noted in the preface to the published score, ‘if desired this written version of the Mass may be used as a suitable springboard for those who will venture upon their own new creation of this original African Mass.’ For the version heard in this recording, an alto replaces the tenor solo with her unique improvisations, the choral arrangement incorporates different combinations of voices, and the final improvisations in the Agnus Dei are achieved with all voices creating an inspirational chant conceived at the moment. The score indicates improvisational passages for percussion in the Credo which are brilliantly performed by the percussion ensemble.

The accomplishment of Ariel Ramírez with Misa Criolla is beyond comparison; over forty years after its creation in 1964, this Mass is considered one of the utmost expressions of popular music in Argentina, and has transcended borders to become appealing to audiences worldwide. Even Ramírez, a composer of a long-standing career, could not have foreseen that Misa Criolla would become his most famous work among a vast output comprising compositions for chorus, voice and piano.

Musically speaking, Misa Criolla falls into a category somewhere between strict academic music and urban popular music but, ultimately, Ramírez’s composition does not intend to preserve folklore but to achieve an artistic recreation of folk-derived traits within a personal compositional style. Misa Criolla consists of musical settings of the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei with liturgical texts in Spanish and is one of the first Catholic Masses to be composed in a language other than Latin. Each part of the Mass is based on either traditional Argentine dances or songs: the vidala-baguala for the Kyrie, refers to the lyrical vocal form of Bolivia and northern Argentina. As customary in performances of bagualas, the Kyrie in Misa Criolla is accompanied by two tenor drums, corresponding to the bombo argentino. In a livelier mood, the Gloria uses the carnavalito-yaraví, a dance from the Andean region. The same dance, the carnival cochabambino (variant form from Cochabamba, Bolivia) sets the mood for the Sanctus. The Credo uses a dance, the chacarera, and for the Agnus Dei Ramírez draws on the emotionally charged song type from the Pampas, the plains of the province of Buenos Aires, named as estilo pampeano. The balance of the five settings is achieved through the use of two lyrical forms for the more introspective opening and closing parts of the Mass, Kyrie and Agnus Dei respectively, and three dances for the dynamic middle section (Gloria, Credo, and Sanctus). The Mass is written for tenor, mixed chorus, percussion, Andean instruments, double bass and harpsichord or piano. It should be noted that Ramírez is considered today the first within the ‘nativist’ tradition to introduce the piano in the performance of traditional music in Argentina. In this recording, however, the charango, a small guitar made of an armadillo shell, and the guitar have replaced the keyboard part. The Andean notched flute, quena, and the panpipes, siku, which are also featured in this recording, follow the Argentine criollo tradition where they usually accompany the charango, the guitar and the bombo. The popular character of Misa Criolla inspires different interpretations: in this recording, a breath-taking improvisation is played by Luis Garay on the tumbadoras, two tom-toms in the Credo as a moment of dramatic reflection between the phrases seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty and from thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead. Scott Hill and Gonzalo Cortés created a very beautiful and haunting introduction to the Agnus Dei, setting the mood for this plaintive and soulful movement.

Esperanza Berrocal

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