Early Music Now Presents Ensemble Lipzodes
The Spanish came to Guatemala, converted the locals, and were pleased to find a particular talent for music among them.
That was news to me, and I was pleased to learn it Saturday afternoon, as Early Music Now presented Ensemble Lipzodes at All Saints’ Cathedral. Everyone in the sextet studied at Indiana University. IU is the repository of the rare Guatemalan manuscripts from which they draw their repertoire. The group draws its name from an enigmatic scrawl on the front of one of those manuscripts.
The music is almost all sacred and very much in the style of the European Renaissance. I kept waiting for some inflections of Indian music to sneak in, in a scale or the introduction of native instruments. Didn’t happen. If it did back in the day, it wasn’t written down for posterity. Most texts were in Latin and a few were in Spanish, but the manuscripts also show that the choirs occasionally translated the texts into one of the three indigenous languages.
Tenor and multi-instrumentalist Wolodymyr Smishkewych handled the solo chants and served as the band’s front man. An ensemble variously comprising recorders, shawms, dulcian, sackbuts, chamber organ and harp handled the part-songs, a very common practice back in the day. Many of the 27 brief numbers had that Spanish 6/8-3/4 metric flair.
Some of the polyphonic music was a little tricky to play, but nothing on the program was virtuosic. This was music that native choirmasters and their native choirs and players would have sung and played every day as part of the Catholic liturgy. It is lovely. Except for one out-of-tune recorder solo, Ensemble Lipzodes performed it accurately and simply — even bluntly. Their approach sounded just right.