This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.
This is album review number one hundred and four in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and Cd albums in my collection.
The series is called “Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.
The first fifty reviews were vinyl only, and the second fifty reviews were CD’s only. Links to these reviews can be found at the bottom of this page. From review 101 onward I have mixed vinyl and CD albums and, try and present an Australian album every fifth review!
This album is as different as any album I have pulled from either my Cd or vinyl LP rack. It isn’t R&R, it isn’t Blues, it isn’t R&B or Jazz, it isn’t any form of Western Swing, Pop or Country & Western and it certainly isn’t any form of Rap or Electronic – it is quite different to all these forms.
Misa Criolla (incorporating Navidad Nuestra – “Our Nativity”) has been performed by a number of artists, but the whole work was recorded with Los Fronterizos and I fell in love with this work in the 1970’s.
The album is Misa Criolla by Los Fronterizos.
It is generally classified as Latin American – Religious, and it certainly is Latin American, and as we shall discuss shortly, it is “religious”.
It is also one of the most superb compositions of its kind and is a series of true celebratory pieces of music – and coming from an old agnostic like myself, that is high praise indeed for a piece of “religious” based music.
The music is the brilliant work of a man who is often simply known as Ramirez, but his full name is Ariel Ramirez and he was an Argentine composer, music director and pianist. He was born in September 1921, and passed on in February 2010.
He is one of the significant popular composers of our time. He gained this reputation in 1964 when he conducted and recorded this work – Misa Criolla. The resulting record was a huge worldwide success.
Originally released by Phillips as part of its “Connoisseur Collection”, the recogniseable orange cover is much sought after by collectors.
Its code is PCC 619.
The piece was published the following year in Buenso Aires, but the first public performance only took place on March 12th, 1967 at the Rheinhalle in Dusseldorf.
Whilst Misa Criolla remains possibly his greatest work, he actually developed more than 300 compositions during his career and sold millions of albums.
He became the first elected president of the Society of Authors and Composers of the Argentine Republic (SADAIC) in 1970, serving for two, four-year terms. He was returned to the post in 1993, and remained in that capacity until ill health forced him to step down in 2004. At his death he was still Chairman of the Advisory Board of SADAIC.
Incidentally, Ariel Ramirez should not be confused with the “master” guitar maker, Jose Ramirez.
The credits for the Misa Criolla work are:
- Choir – Choir Of The Basilica Del Socorro* (tracks: A1 to A5)
- Chorus, Orchestra – Los Fronterizos Chorus And Orchestra* (tracks: B1 to B6)
- Conductor – Ariel Ramirez
- Lyrics By – Mayol, Catena, Segade
- Music By – Ramirez
Side 1 – Misa Criolla
5. Agnus Dei (Estilo Pampeano)
Side 2 – Navidad Nuestra (Our Nativity)
1. La Anunciación (The Annunciation)
2. La Peregrinación (The Pilgrimage)
3. El Nacimiento (The Nativity)
4. Los Pastores (The Shepherds)
5. Los Reyes Magos (The Magi or The Three Kings)
6. La Huida (The Flight)
The album, even though produced over 55 years ago, was produced as a gate-fold with booklet attached within. This was quite an advanced piece of “art production” for it’s day, and the quality of the cover, the recording and the booklet is very high.
The pressing itself is considered as the finest recording of this piece of work and despite other more recent “re-worked” vinyl albums and a digital reproduction on Cd, it is still incredibly sought after because of its superior pressing.
The cover is very thick but high quality cardboard, several millimeters thick the fact that the copy I have is fifty years old, it shows only the smallest sign of wear along the spine.
The vivid shades of orange with simple black printing not only stand out – but really look as classy as the recording sounds.
The booklet, sadly, does not have any photo plates but tells of; The “Liturgy and “Folklore”; The Works (Side 1 – Misa Criolla) and Side 2 – Navidad Nuestra); About Los Fronterizos; and Ariel Ramirez.
Toward the back they have provided the lyrics in the original Spanish and in English.
Finally, there is the most beautiful double page set of drawings at the front and repeated at the back.
There is also a second set of drawings for the centre of the booklet. The drawings the were inspired by the music.
It’s not often that the piece or pieces of music are dominant over the group, and it is easy to focus upon Misa Criolla – the work, and forget about the group. This info is straight out of the comprehensive album liner notes.
“Los Fronterizos was formed in Salta (Argentina) in 1953. The fame and prestige the group gained was initially within their own country, having established themselves through radio and live performances in theatres and cultural centres.
Los Fronterizos, as a national group of Argentina, are considered as the best interpreters of the varied styles of Latin American music. Their artistic quality places them in the vanguard of the Argentinian folklore movement.
With the emotive power of their voices, as soloists in the Misa Criolla, they have managed to achieve the greatest goal of their illustrious careers.“
Membership consists of:
- Gerardo López
- Eduardo Madeo
- Carlos Barbaran
- Juan Carlos Moreno
- Julio César Isella; replaced Barbaran in 1956
- Yayo Quesada; replaced Isella in 1964
What of the work?
The work came into being when he decided to compose a “sung mass” but based strictly on the music forms found in South American Folk Lore. After discussions with local religious leaders, the Director of the Choir of the Basilica del Socorro and others, it was decided to use the Spanish liturgical text as approved by Latin American Experts.
Ramirez was determined not just to produce a great work and to use the music forms of his country, but to have it as genuine as possible so that it would be accepted world wide.
So using Los Fronterizos because of their ability to interpret works, and the Choir of the Basilica del Socorro to provide the harmonizing parts, as well as the use of an orchestra to supplement the playing of the indigenous instruments, the final element was Ramirez.
He is both the conductor and player of the harpsichord.
The full story of Misa Criolla is far too lengthy to be discussed here but I will look at the story behind the four tracks I have chosen.
Incidentally, “Misa” is Spanish for Mass and “Misa Criolla” means “Creole Mass” and refers to a mass that combines European and indigenous musical elements.
Ramirez’s instrumentation includes the harpsichord, guitar, bongos, charango, bells (cascabeles), high drums with sticks, low drums with hands and, tenor and baritone solos.
In many ways taking individual tracks out does the work an inordinate disfavour as it is akin to taking sections of an operatic recital and trying to make sense of the parts without the whole.
However, this isn’t a discourse on Misa Criolla, but an attempt to reveal why it is such a fantastic work, and in an attempt to do that I have tended to choose four uptempo pieces.
There are two tracks from side 1 and two tracks from side 2.
Side 1 track number 2 is the longest piece in the works – Gloria.
It runs for five minutes and thirty seconds and in this piece master musician Jaime Torres, excellent interpreter of the “charango“, initiates the Gloria with a magnificent performance based upon the rhythm of one of the countries most popular dances; the Carnavalito.
There is no direct translation of this term, but the root Carniva means, Carnival!
According to the album liner notes – “It is a popular form that conveys the joy of the Glory of God that Los Fronterizos and the Choir exalt through an alternating dialogue of magnetic vivacity.
OK, that is some description! For my part it is an almost carnival like piece, very happy and I found myself after re-listening to the piece, singing it, or attempting to sing it in my broken sometimes made-up Spanish.
It has, what we call in western “pop” music, one hell of a hook!
We then jump to Side 1 track 4 – Sanctus.
Now “Sanctus” is latin for holy and a hymn beginning Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus (Holy, holy, holy) forms a set part of the Mass.
What Ramirez did was to base the Sanctus on one of the most beautiful rhythms of Bolivian folklore: the Carnival of Cochabamba.
It commences with a rather subdued but marked beat which announces the solemnity of the Mass, but quickly builds into what we would call a middle tempo ballad style.
I love the way Ramirez uses the harpsichord to mark a change in tempo as the choir breaks in. It’s kind of like the introduction of the choir acclaiming the “Glory” that the religion says fills the heavens.
At only one minute and forty eight seconds, it is the shortest piece on the album.
Turning over the record we come to the side that is sub-labeled as Navidad Nuestra – or, “Our Nativity”!
Ramirez said that it was particularly created to be a “Criollo Retable”, or Native Tableau. This is in his words, where each movement of the “Mystery of the Incarnation” is expressed in a popular manner while attempting to pay respect to the “Miracle of two thousand years ago”, but as evoked by a simple people.
I was struck by tracks 4 and 5 in particular, although I came so close to using the more solemn but beautifully crafted track 1 – La Anunciacion (or The Annunciation).
But these two two tracks were obviously meant to follow one another as the album is concept in its construction, and even to my Western non-religious ear, I absolutely love them together and so I share them with you.
Track number 4 is Los Pastores (or The Shepherds).
A very uplifting piece that commences with a chorus followed by the harpsichord and then it becomes a call and reply type theme between Los Fronterizos and the choir.
This is very much in the same way the Black American culture developed it’s own way of praising in song through spirituals.
I find myself being drawn to to this style and wonder whether my own religious upbringing would have had a different outcome if they sung like this in my local church.
We may not fully comprehend the regional musical styles of South America, but one can hear a distinct difference and this should not be surprising as Ramirez set out in Navidad Nuestra to give each track a distinct regional voice.
In a similar manner to the previous track we find track 5 – Los Reyes Magos, making use of regional instruments underpinned by the harpsichord and the brilliant blending of the voices of Los Fronterizos and the choir.
I was going to supply an English translation of the words, but in all honesty, the translation doesn’t add to the experience and in listening to it sung in Spanish, we translate it in our own hearts and from our own interpretations.
Los Reyes Magos
So it is that this album does warrant a very special place in my collection because of its beauty, its ingenious and well structured compositions and the amazing musicianship.
The fact is, that it really is a very uplifting album, and there is not one “Tutti Fruity”, no back-beat, no processing just fantastic pieces of music.
“Musically speaking, Misa Criolla falls into a category between strict acedemic music and urban popular music but, ultimately, Ramirez’s composition does not intend to preserve folklore but to achieve an artistic recreation of folk-derived traits within a personal compositional style.“ [Esperanza Berrocal]
Should you add it to your collection?
There is no straight forward answer to this question.
Ramirez put out a number of great works post Misa Criolla, but between you and me – this is the definitive “IT”. If you liked the tracks I played then seek it out.
Beware, there are a number of re-works of this album, but if you are going to buy it whether you track down vinyl or go for the later Cd release, be certain you specify Misa Criolla – Los Fronterizos.
It is available on Cd very readily, and for as low as $16.00 new, BUT there are some folk out there that “don’t get it”, and have put their Phillips original orange coloured gate-fold vinyl albums up for sale for next to nothing.
Just make sure the album surfaces are in good condition and, POUNCE!
Not unexpectedly there are not many clips of Los Fronterizos and Ariel Ramirez live. The following are what I could locate and even though the tracks are featured within the review, it is interesting to listen and see the players under Ramirez control.
Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:
To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –
To view/listen the first 50 Cd album reviews just click the image below –
Click to open the following Vinyl reviews from 101 onward: