Music With A Mission
Un Milagro de fe/A Miracle of Faith Border CrosSing/Ahmed Anzaldua Bridge Records 9568 Total Time: 59:57 Recording: ****/**** Performance: ****/****
The Minnesota-bases ensemble Border CrosSing, under its founder Ahmed Anzaldua, was formed in 2017 with a mission to bring to light the great variety of Latin American culture and choral music. For this release, they have chosen works by four contemporary composers all focusing on aspects of faith traditions. The album itself is a work of faith that was up against a host of postponements as a result of the ongoing pandemic. The joy and energy of being able to come together to create music can be heard throughout there program here.
Fiesta de San Juan is an intriguing work celebrating a Venezuelan festival that takes place each June 24. Beatriz Bilbao (b. 1951) creates a work that is like a miniature opera of scenes and celebration. Percussion creates a unique backdrop with fine rhythmic writing to push things along. Ritual indigenous chants and text by the composer provide additional signposts as the procession moves through the streets to a final celebration.
Another significant work follows which features an early Catholic Mass setting in Spanish. Written by Argentine composer Ariel Ramirez (1921-2010), the Misa Criolla (1964) is an often stunning setting of the primary mass texts (the “Gloria” has become especially popular for college choirs). Each segment of the mass uses a musical style or form that represents different Andean regions. It lends the rhythmic interest and melodic contours to these pieces. The music itself was designed to be collaborative by incorporating what instruments and talents one had on hand. To a certain extent this performance honors that concept with its choices in instrumentation. The album would be recommended alone for the inclusion of this significant work.
Equally unique is a performance of Mary Lou Williams’ (1910-1981) St. Martin de Porres which first appeared on her jazz album Black Christ of the Andes (1963). There it serves as an opening track to a sort of spiritual journey that incorporates Afro-Latin grooves. The performance here uses that recording as its inspiration using Latin percussion and a central jazz-like interlude as well. Rich extended harmonies inform the choral writing (recalling the era of the Swingle Singers).
The final pieces on this release are from the first part of Osvaldo Golijov’s La Pasion segun San Marcos (2000). Using plainchant blended with Latin percussion and rhythms, Golijov crafted a work that connects to the faith of Latin Catholics and their spirituality. After the performance of the “Eucarista”, the group closes their album with “Demos Gracias”. They are using a version that Golijov extracted for concert performance. Themes of liberation and courage link this work to the political unrest in Argentina throughout the 1970s.
A great attention to detail can be heard throughout these recordings. Border CrosSing is more of a chamber choir which allows them to create a fine sense of intimacy for some of these pieces. This also allows for the harmonic and rhythmic articulation that makes the for engaging listening. Inner voices can be discerned well here which adds to the enjoyment of these works even if sometimes one might want a larger choir. Instrumental performances are equally cued in to the style of these different works and the variety of accompaniment requirements lends a freshness that engages throughout. All of it is captured in excellent sound. A Miracle of Faith is an important release of Latin American choral music not to be missed.