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Penguin Guide, January 2009

The Missa Criolla draws on Argentinian folk tunes and idioms, but in most respects is wholly original. The opening Kyrie and closing Agnus Dei are lyrical and reflective, the central Gloria, Credo and Sanctus are dynamic and full of dancing rhythms. The Mass is written for tenor celebrant, chorus, percussion, Andean instruments, including a notched flute or quena, a charango (small guitar), double bass and percussion, with a pair of tom-toms in the Credo. The closing section brings a haunting, reflective passage for quena and charango. This genuine crossover music of real quality, but it is obviously difficult to perform live, as it needs a group of specialist performers who are immersed in the idiom, which is exactly what we have here, and the Washington Choristers are for the most part beyond praise.

The Navidad Nuestra (‘Our Nativity’) is a Creole tableau in six episodes (with a Spanish text by Félix Luna), telling the Christian Nativity story from the annunciation to the birth of Jesus, the venue relocated to northern Argentina, and ending with the family’s flight. Ramirez again bases his music on dances and songs from the Argentinian folk tradition, this time even more unashamedly popular: the second part of the work, La Peregrinación (‘The Pilgrimage’), has become famous on the hit parade.

The music of the Missa Luba comes from the Belgian Congo, and was arranged by a missionary, Father Guido Haazen, from the improvisations of the local singers and musicians, so the accompaniment consists entirely of local percussion sounds which create the rhythmic framework for the poplar melodies. The performance here is entirely choral and has a haunting, lyrical core. With such excellent, idiomatic performances and good documentation, this is a disc to recommend unreservedly if you enjoy exotic, folk-derived music.

American Record Guide, December 2006

Christianity may have stagnated some in the West (especially Europe), but it is alive and going great guns in South America, Africa, and other parts of what used to be called the Third World. The cultural fruits of these spiritual demographics are on display here. Two of the works come courtesy of Argentina's Ariel Ramirez (b 1921). The third, Missa Luba, is a Mass inspired by the music of what is now the Republic of Congo in central Africa. With djembes, congas, and ngomas pounding out soul-affirming African rhythms and guitars, castanets, and Andean flutes sounding the faith as so many South Americans feel it, we have an ethnomusicological bonanza as well as an hour's worth of colorful, irresistibly energetic sacred music.

The solo singing and instrumental work are atmospheric to a fault, with the Choral Arts folks sounding a bit more studied but still plenty enthusiastic. Once again, Naxos fails to supply texts and translations, which doesn't really matter in the Masses but gets in the way of the Navidad, a series of six tableaux depicting the nativity. You can find the English translation at Sigh. It's fitting that the Three Kings make an appearance here because not having the words available in the booklet is a royal pain.

Fanfare, May 2006

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