This review can also be found at Boston Music Intelligencer.
Rumbarroco played a benefit concert for Venezuela’s Niño Jesús Daycare on May 6 in Brookline’s United Parish. The Latin-Baroque fusion ensemble featured a virtuosic line-up of musicians: Daniela Tošić, mezzo-soprano; Yi-Li Chang, violin and viola da gamba; Juan Carlos Ruiz, tenor and guitars; Kirsten Lamb, bass; Zayra Ocasio, percussion; Laury Gutiérrez, viola da gamba and cuatro. Delivering a distinctive musical blend of Old and New world Latin, African, and European, Rumbarroco engaged its audience with entertaining and complex sounds.
The program started with an anonymous 17th century piece, Ah! de las Mazmorras (Ah, From Your Dungeon), which sets text by Sor Juana Inès de la Cruz (1651-1695) and whose music may have also been written by her. The piece began in its original early music form complete with viola da gamba, but soon took on Rumbarroco-arranged Venezuelan rhythm, harmonies, and instruments after the first bridge. The bass, percussion and four-string Venezuelan bandola—a folk instrument similar to a cross between guitar and oud—improvised over the bridge’s harmonic progression, landing the song into a joropo-infused arrangement of the original song complete with cuatro accompaniment. This included zumba que zumba progressions and rhythms native to creole Venezuela.
Next came contemporary composer Luisa Elena Paesano’s Gavan con revueltas, arranged in the opposite manner from the first piece, this time taking a Venezuelan song and playing it with early music instruments. The juxtaposition of genres, instruments, and sonorities created a rich musical tapestry exposing and highlighting the musical character of its various cultural influences.
The next three songs were by Modesta Bor (1926-98): Ribereñas (Riverbanks), Mariposa del aire (Butterfly of the air), and Canto a la Vida (Song to Life). This set arranged the Venezuelan composer’s vocal pieces for voices (mezzo-soprano Daniela Tošić; tenor Juan Carlos Ruiz) and early music instruments (violin and viola da gamba), and combined early music improvisatory techniques with current Venezuelan performance practice. The animated atmosphere culminated in the final piece of the first half: traditional Venezuelan folk song El Monigote (The Rag Doll). Rumbarroco added early music and baroque improvisational and ornamental techniques to contemporary composer Diana V. Saez’s 2007 arrangement of the piece. An exciting percussion accompaniment, played superbly by Zayra Ocasio, stirred the audience. This piece brought tears to the eyes of some Venezuelans, who during intermission, reminisced about how it brought them back to memories of childhood.
The second half started with living composer, Beatriz Corona’s Corazon Coraza (Armored Heart), which uses suspensions and techniques typical of baroque madrigals. The ensemble performed this piece with two viola da gamba and two voices in a style typical of 17th century music, and then added bass and percussion as well. Besame Mucho, by Consuelo Velazquez (1916-2005) followed. Rumbarroco performed Esther Rojas’ arrangement for two viola da gamba and voice. Tošić’s dark mezzo blended lusciously with the mellow gamba sonority while an Afro-Peruvian Lando rhythm structured the piece. The exciting Für Elena, by contemporary Diana Arismendi followed. Based on a folia harmonic progression typical of the baroque period, it showcased an intriguing improvisational interplay between the violin, viola da gamba, and bass and ended with an extraordinary cadenza by violinist Yi-Li Chang. This cadenza explored the instrument’s range and potential, containing elements of Bach partita performance while also grasping at Rumbarroco’s infusion of montuno salsa rhythms, played dynamically by Ocasio. The concert ended with an audience favorite, Saez’s Plena, which involved audience vocal participation, a virtuosic bass improvisation, and firework percussion. Gutierrez explained that the plena is a type of popular musical genre from Puerto Rico that sings praise to the Virgin Mary and takes its name from a portion of a prayer to her, “Maria, plena de gracia” (Mary, full of grace).
Rumbarroco’s innovative blend of music offers an exciting, sonorous soundsphere to the listener. Who knew that Venezuelan folk instruments and salsa beats could perfectly compliment baroque violin and viola da gamba?