By James A. Karis II
Published April 1, 2008, Worcester Telegram & Gazette
There’s something especially spiritual about listening to religious choral music in a language you don’t understand. Perhaps it’s the fact that the sound alone is able to create meaning – and that it can mean anything imaginable.
Salisbury Singers presented such a sound Sunday afternoon at St. Peter’s Church with Musica Criolla, Choral Treasures of Latin America. The program featured “Misa Criolla,” by Argentinean composer Ariel Ramirez, and a number of shorter pieces from such countries as Mexico, Peru and Brazil.
The Singers, consisting of more than 50 members, opened the afternoon with the polyphonic “Hanacpachap,” a calming, soothing Peruvian piece that was sung as the chorus walked down the center aisle of the church toward the altar.
Once stationed at the front of the church, they presented Flavio Gontijo’s “Ave Maria,” a somber song with resounding peaks, presented in Latin and sung a cappella.
The central part of the performance was Mr. Ramirez’s “Misa Criolla,” featuring soloists Richard Monroe (tenor) and John Whittlesey (baritone). Composed in 1963, the piece has its roots in Argentinean folk music. It is broken into the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei. Over the course of these sections – utilizing variances of volume and cadence – the piece evoked myriad feelings, from loneliness, sadness and isolation to celebration and triumph.
The second half of the program consisted of Mexican, Brazilian and Cuban folk songs, and closed with Jim Papoulis’ “Oye,” which is a reflection on his time working with children in Mexico. “Oye” means “listen,” which Mr. Papoulis says was the one message these children wanted to convey to the world. Translated into English, the verse reads, “All alone in the darkness, they are crying out for your help … Are you listening, can you hear their cries?”
During their solos, Mr. Monroe and Mr. Whittlesey showed the ability both to mesh with the chorus and to stand out. During some of the more dramatic periods of “Misa Criolla,” the voice of Mr. Monroe, in particular, was like a seagull flying high above the crashing ocean below, only to descend, seemingly lost in the waves, then rising again.
Peter Clemente, on guitar, contributed warmth – and, at times, an almost mariachi flair – to Sunday’s performance. In addition to guitar, Mr. Clemente played a unique instrument known as the charango, which is like a ukulele and has a back made from the shell of an armadillo. The use of stringed instruments, particularly the high-pitched charango, contributed brightness, a sense of hope – even a sense of humor – to several of the more joyous pieces.
St. Peter’s was a fine setting for the performance, with its large mural of the Last Supper, stained glass of blue and violet and its crucifix hanging directly behind the singers.
At around one hour, the concert was short, and a few more songs would have been welcomed. But there’s also something to be said for a focused program without any filler that allows the audience to digest a variety of exotic nuances.
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