February 2007

Tonos y Tonadas
Barbara Kusa, Isabel Monar, Luis Rigou, Ensemble La Chimera
MA 39978 00722 2
Format: CD
Released: 2006

by Rad Bennett

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

The subtitle for this hypnotic recording reads "early Spanish music + folklore from South America." More specifically, it presents music from an area called "Virreynatos," which is located along the Andes Mountain chain. The music demonstrates the influences that Spanish and South American arts have had on each other. The disc notes indicate that the music chosen focuses on the last part of the 17th century. Much of it sounds like Renaissance court music, but a great portion strikes one as simple folk music. There are even pieces that have a twinge of Gypsy-like music. In spite of the disparity of the selections, it all fits together comfortably for a most appealing listen.

The mostly young artists sing and play impeccably, with grace, controlled enthusiasm, and style. One of the singers doubles on South American flutes, and the ensemble contains viola da gamba, lirone, cello, double bass, harmonia, guitar, and lute. But the focus is on singing, and seldom have I heard a recording where voices sounded so full, focused, and natural. MA is noted for superior recording skills, and this disc is proof of that. The ensemble is spread out in a natural way, with the singers up front. Balances are impeccable; clarity and transparency are at times astonishing, even to jaded ears.

The only drawback to this disc is that it does not include translations of the texts or biographies of the artists. I finally had some texts e-mailed to me, but the producer seemed to feel that a four-page leaflet that told about the history of the music was enough. Surely many non-Spanish speaking listeners will want to know what the songs are about, and the artists are so impressive that one will want to know more about them, too.