Classical CD Reviews

“Al Combate: Rediscovered Galant Music from Eighteenth-Century Mexico” = Works of JERUSALEM & BILLIONI – Soloists/ Chicago Arts Chorale & Orch./ Javier Jose Mendoza – Navona

Unusual repertory that is well worth hearing, coupled with sprightly performances make for an hour of real pleasure.

Published on September 27, 2013

“Al Combate: Rediscovered Galant Music from Eighteenth-Century Mexico” = IGNACIO JERUSALEM: Symphony in G; Gorjeos Trinando; Cristal Bello; Al Combate; SANTIAGO BILLIONI: Mariposa Inadvertida; Celeste Aurora Hermosa – Elda Peralta, mezzo-sop./ Eleanor Ranney-Mendoza, sop./ Sandro Naglia, tenor/ Alexander Edgemon (counter-tenor)/ Vincent Wallace (bass)/ Chicago Arts Chorale/ Chicago Arts Orch./ Javier Jose Mendoza – Navona Records NV5902, 67:11 [Distr. by Naxos] ***1/2:

Ignacio Jerusalem (1707-1769) was a violinist who was recruited from Spain after moving from Italy, to provide music for the Coliseo de México, a theatre whose proceeds supported the Royal Hospital of Indigenous Citizens in Mexico City. He became chapel master at the Catedral de México in 1750, a position he held for the rest of his life. Though the last decades of his life were plagued by divorce issues and competition from rivals, his reputation remained unsullied, and he was able to count numerous accomplishments in the musical life of the Cathedral. When he died it was as an honored member of the community.

His Symphony in G is an example of the early classical/ late Baroque style not all that different from something J.C. Bach might have penned. The work is sprightly and engaging. The duet Gorjeos Trinando for the feast of St. Peter has a text referring to Peter’s denial, complete with birdsong imitation in the voices. Cristal Bello is an aria for Christmas, rather long, with a flute obbligato that is very beautiful. But the ode Al Comabate, from which the album takes its title, was written in honor of King Charles III of Spain’s 1760 coronation. Its eleven movements are based on a poem using classical mythology. It is a fine work of secular provenance that is engaging from beginning to end, easily the equal of a lot of the music being written in Europe at the same time.

Santiago Billoni (c.1700 – c.1763) was of Roman origin, and spent a lot of his life in Guadalajara, Valladoid-Morella and Durango. He held the position of choirmaster from 1749-55. He and Jerusalem were the only two Italians to become choirmasters in Mexico. His writing is quite advanced, with many experiments in virtuoso violin writing and some notable harmonic explorations. This composer is represented by only two arias, Mariposa Inadvertida, a sacred aria referencing Christ’s passion through the poetic device of an unnoticed butterfly. Celete Aurora Hermosa is an aria for the feast of the Immaculate Conception.  Both works are fine examples of his art.

I have some problems with the sound on this disc, rather glaring and lacking warmth. The singers are accomplished for the most part, but there are some instances of struggling intonation. The orchestra is an exciting group for sure, though even here one can hear some lagging and inexact playing by the strings. But their enthusiasm more than makes up for the few faults, and the quality of the music coupled with the animated playing renders this disc unique and desirable.

—Steven Ritter




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