The Consort

This CD of baroque concertos by two Venetians, Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) and Giacomo Facco (1676-1753), is interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, Facco is a little-known baroque figure, most of whose compositions were destroyed by a disastrous fire in the royal palace, Madrid, where he worked. All that survives are some short pieces for two cellos and a set of concerti entitled Pensieri Adriarmonici , perhaps to be translated ‘Thoughts of the harmonious Adriatic’. These were rediscovered only ion 1961, by the Italian conductor Uberto Zanolli, in the library of Colegio de las Vizcainas in Mexico City; they were probably brought to Mexico in about 1723 to be performed as entertainment for Spanish noblemen.

The two concerti by Facco on this CD, for violin, strings and continuo (op. 1 no. 1 in E minor and no. 5 in A major), are as attractive as many by Vivaldi and Corelli; indeed, the Mexican Baroque Orchestra was established in order to perform Facco’s music. Like Vivaldi, Facco was a composer and violinist. He wrote a series of successful operas, such as Las Amazonas de España , first performed in Madrid in 1720; it was the first opera to be set to a Spanish libretto. While at the Spanish court in Madrid, Facco taught the harpsichord to the future kings Louis I and Fernando VI. He eventually became Music Master to the Infante Dan Carlos, who later became King Charles III. Yet, like Vivaldi, Facco died in obscurity, as a mere violinist in the orchestra of the Royal Chapel, Madrid.

The second interesting feature of this CD is that the Mexican Baroque Orchestra, here a group of eight musicians, choose to play the basso continuo on today’s mariachi vihuela and guitarrón. These instruments were created in 17 th century Mexico, and were derived from various European continuo instruments, the archlute, theorbo, European vihuela and baroque guitar. The two mariachi instruments resemble each other in shape and sound, and are always played together. The guitarrón is much bigger than the vihuela: with its lower register, it plays the bass notes in octaves, always plucking two strings at a time.

The mariachi continuo is most prominent in the solo concerti by Vivaldi: two for sopranino recorder (in C major RV443 and in A minor RV445) and in the concerto in C major RV425, originally for mandolin, performed here on the psaltery. The mariachi continuo is softer than its European counterpart, lacking the harpsichord’s familiar twang. It also sounds a little four-square: perhaps this is a feature of the instruments.

The third interesting feature is the use of the psaltery as a solo instrument. Vivaldi indicated the use of this instrument to accompany the aria Ho nel petto fort cor in his opera Il Giustino , RV717. Here, the traditional Mexican psaltery is an entirely satisfactory ‘local’ replacement for the mandolin, played with delicacy and fluency by Mexico’s leading virtuoso on the instrument, Daniel Armas. Daniel was taught to play the psaltery by his mother, who was taught be her father.

The other soloists are also excellent: the sopranino recorder is played with delightful virtuosity by the orchestra’s conductor, Miguel Lawrence, and the solo violin in the Facco concerti is sensitively played by Manuel Zogbi. I found the orchestra somewhat lacking in variety of tempi and dynamics within each movement, but this aside, there is plenty to enjoy on this CD. These Mexican performers give a hint of how European music might have been interpreted in the New World in the 18 th century.

—Elizabeth Rees