El Mundo/Richard Salvino: Archivo de Guatemala review – perfect balance of sacred and profane

Andrew Clements
·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images

Over the last two decades or so the wealth of music that was composed from the 16th century onwards in colonial Latin America has been systematically investigated and performed again. Much of it has been unearthed in cathedrals and missions across Central and South America. Jesuit archives in Bolivia, for instance, were the source for three fascinating discs from Florilegium, and recordings of collections from Ecuador and Brazil have also been released. This disc by the baroque group El Mundo and its director, guitarist Richard Salvino, shifts the focus further north, to what was found in the archives of the cathedral in Guatemala City.

The huge cathedral that dominates the central square in the Guatemalan capital was built in stages at the end of the 18th century, after the capital was moved from the city that is now known as Antigua, and quickly became the centre of the lively musical culture that is documented in its archives. Those records contain music by both Spanish and Guatemalan composers. El Mundo’s selection includes some of the imported music, including a beautiful little cantata, Sosiega Tu Quebranto, by José de Torres, but they concentrate on locally produced works, especially those by two successive maestri di cappella at the cathedral, Manuel José de Quirós and Rafael Antonio Castellanos, whose sacred compositions combined the techniques of 16th-century polyphony with the rhythms and harmonies of local dance music, especially a dance called the xácara.

The sequence is thoughtfully conceived and presented with a lightness of touch that makes it constantly engaging. Dance rhythms lift even the most serious sacred settings, and El Mundo’s quartet of singers, accompanied by three strings, percussion and a mostly strummed continuo group, balance the sacred and the profane perfectly.

This week’s other picks

Along with their religion, the early colonists of South America brought their liturgical music, much of it a product of the great Spanish golden age of choral music. Those exports included works by Francisco Guerrero (1528-99), whose music circulated in the Spanish empire even more widely than that of his contemporaries Morales and Victoria. Though Guerrero never crossed the Atlantic, he travelled widely from his lifelong base at Seville Cathedral; among his trips was a pilgrimage to the holy land, stopping off on his return journey in Venice, where some of his music was published, including his Canciones y Villanescas Espirituales. A selection of those four-part, mostly secular songs ends the poised and beautiful all-Guerrero disc on Hyperion from El León de Oro, conducted by Peter Phillips and Marco Antonio García de Paz. They are preceded by a series of liturgical pieces, including a Magnificat, the ravishing double-choir motet Laudate Dominum, and a set of Lamentations, which recently came to light in a manuscript in Guatemala Cathedral.