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Fabulous rhythmic intensity and a perfectly judged smoochy number
on 5 February 2012
Part of the success of Chistina Pluhar and Arpeggiata's projects connecting early music with other traditions has always been that they are well founded in musicological research, and this new disc - drawing on the music of Venezuela, Colombia, Argentina and Paraguay - is no exception. The point of connection in this case is that the music of these countries uses the instruments of the early baroque largely unchanged from when they were first introduced by Spanish and Portuguese colonisers. The descendants of the baroque guitar and Renaissance harp in particular play a central role in the music of Venezuela and Paraguay, and for this CD Arpeggiata's traditional crew is augmented by players of the Venezuelan arpa llanera, cuatro (a miniature guitar also found in Cuba and Mexico), charango and maracas. None of which tells you what is most distinctive about this CD - the fabulous rhythmic intensity of the music, which Arpeggiata carry off with great verve. High-octane, propulsive, multi-layered in its polyrhythm, much of this music is exhiliratingly paced stuff I would defy anyone to sit still to!
As for the vocalists, Vincenzo Capezzuto is a male alto whose tone has an unusual pressed quality, perhaps something of an acquired taste, but who is extremely effective in the faster 'patter numbers' such as El Currucha. Jaroussky of course is as consummate as ever, the tone of lament he must have honed through countless Monteverdi arias perfect for the slower numbers; he only seems out of place in the central section of the title track, where his purity of voice entirely lacks the raw edginess which might better suit the strident, abrupt tango. Luciana Mancini, in contrast, is a fabulously throaty mezzo whose deep voice powers out above the multi-layered accompaniment and sounds highly authentic in this repertoire. Wonderful Arpeggiata stalwart Lucilla Galeazzi also has a melancholy number well suited to her.
The most astonishing vocal performance, however, is saved to Raquel Andueza, who, aside from a duet with Jaroussky, we only meet at the end of the CD. The inclusion of Besame Mucho - covered countless times already by other musicians - might seem a risky move, yet the rendition here is extraordinary and among the most compelling I have heard. As with everything Arpeggiata does at this andante tempo, the sense of pacing is exquisite, and Andueza simply floats over the high notes as if effortlessly cresting the high point of a ferris wheel, then lets the vocal lines fall away in imitation of the valedictory side of the lyrics, while the rhythm section give it all the sway and swagger you need for such a sensuous track. Daringly programmed as the final number, it is a fabulous way to finish a thrilling album, and, for my money, worth the price of the CD alone.
Meanwhile, if this album inspires you to get to know the source Venezuelan music better, google for [no personal connection] a BBC Radio 3 World Routes production on the arpa llanera, where you can hear local musicians singing the joropo exactly as Christina Pluhar describes it in the excellent sleeve notes - long introductory note a la cante jondo followed by story-telling delivery.
A resounding five out of five stars then for another grounded but ground-breaking collaboration from Arpeggiata.