top of page

Fire burning in snow: passion and contrasts

Updated: Apr 12

Ex Cathedra | Jeffrey Skidmore, Hyperion

CD Review by Isabelle Métrope, ICM Managing editor, Germany/France


Fire burning in snow, recorded by british ensemble ex cathedra and directed by its founder, jeffrey skidmore, showcases an exciting repertoire of baroque music from latin america, with a focus on works by composer juan de araujo (1648-1712). This recording was released in 2008 and is a must-listen for both the music and the quality of its interpretation.

The composer Juan de Araujo was born in Spain, but at an early age moved to South America with his parents. After taking up positions in Lima, Panama and Cusco, he eventually became organist at the cathedral of La Plata, today’s Sucre, the capital of Bolivia – a position he held for 32 years. This allowed him to hire professional musicians and use a wide range of instruments. Little is known about Araujo the man, but his musicianship found expression both in the academic style for church music and in Villancicos, folk songs with dance elements. It is therefore not surprising that both styles are evident in his compositions.

With Hanacpachap cussicuinin, whose 20 verses represent a leitmotif throughout the CD, the listener is immediately swept away by the musical energy of Latin America. This piece in the Quechua language is not only supposed to have been the first printed score of polyphonic vocal music in all of America, it also belongs to the Ritual Formularia collection, by Juan de Peréz Bocanegra. This was a bilingual manual for pastors – in Quechua and Spanish – and refers to Christian and Incan traditions. It was probably the first intercultural and interreligious publication! Like most of the pieces on this CD, Hanacpachap cussicuinin is recorded in full here for the first time.

Araujo's Dixi Dominus for three choirs is enchanting: the sonorous embrace of European polyphony meets the energy of the Villancicos. Claudio Monteverdi would definitely have enjoyed this piece! The echo sounds of Silencio are also reminiscent of the work of Italian composers, making use of the church’s internal architecture, and would be ideal for an immersive performance with choirs and soloists sited in different locations. The love duet with God is particularly delightful: Dios de amor, sung here by a countertenor and a soprano. Other works for smaller ensembles form interesting contrasts with spirited choral works (¡A, de la región de luces! with its daring harmonies resembles Carlo Gesualdo’s style of phrasing). The musical depiction of a bullfight ¡Salga el torillo bosquillo! by the Andalusian composer Diego José de Salazar (c. 1660-1709) is perhaps the most extraordinary work of church music in this recording. The matador transforms into the Virgin Mary: the work is dedicated to the Virgen de Guadalupe, which is celebrated each year on 8 September in Sucre, around a small chapel near the cathedral. The piece ¡Salga el torillo bosquillo! was probably composed for one of these celebrations.

Ex Cathedra (Birmingham, UK) consists of a choir, a vocal ensemble, an instrumental ensemble for baroque music and a choir school working with the Birmingham Conservatoire. This CD features the Ex Cathedra Consort (vocal ensemble) and the Ex Cathedra Baroque Ensemble. The 14 singers deliver precision, unerring intonation and musical energy. They also achieve a homogeneous sound with the historical instruments and the instruments from Latin America. The CD Fire burning in snow is available from the British label Hyperion.

Isabelle Métrope is a singer, a conductor and the managing editor of the International Choral Magazine. She studied applied languages and music management, as well as conducting, singing and pedagogy. Apart from singing solo and in several professional choirs, her favorite activities include page setting, translating, baking cakes, taking pictures and travelling around the Mediterranean.

Translated from German by Laura Massey, UK

1 view0 comments


bottom of page