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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 13, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 11
More than three cultures
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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More than three cultures

by Jim Jones - Special to the SGN

MUSICA FICTA
'TRAVELING MUSIC
OF THREE CULTURES'
EARLY MUSIC GUILD
TOWN HALL
March 7


'Musica ficta' is a technical term used by medieval music theorists to denote tones that fall outside the conventional hexachord of modal scales. Musica Ficta, on the other hand, is an exciting Spanish early music ensemble that delights in playing the music of the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian cultures of the Iberian Peninsula. After a lapse of three years, Musica Ficta appeared again in Seattle at Town Hall to wow an appreciative audience on Saturday, March 7.

The group, led by percussionist Raúl Mallavibarrena, weaves together complex vocal harmonies and instrumental effects to render musical images of the golden age of Moorish Spain, which lasted for nearly eight hundred years in the sunniest spot in the supposedly Dark Ages. Musica Ficta has recorded seventeen CDs that illustrate the rich variety of music that thrived during - and after - that surprisingly liberal caliphate. In fact, the concert, performed without intermission, was divided into 'Encounters,' 'Year 1492' - that signal year that saw the conclusion of the Christian reconquest of the peninsula, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, and the discovery of the New World - and 'Re-encounters.'

Early music enthusiasts took great pleasure in the abundance of percussion in the Town Hall performance, as Mallavibarrena tapped out elaborate rhythms reminiscent of those in classical Indian ragas on bendir, riq, (round and square frame drums) tar (a kind of tambourine used in Arabic music), and darbuka (a goblet-shaped drum). Even Musica Ficta's harpist, the elegant and talented Sara Águeda, reminded the audience that stringed instruments, when plucked, can also function as percussion. Águeda passed easily from percussive to melodic effects on her instrument, most notably on 'Cantiga 156,' a strange Galician-Portuguese hymn to both Eve and the Virgin Mary.

The other instrumentalists were equally versatile, the boyish virtuoso Juan Rodríguez on flutes and the dark-eyed María Elena Medina on viola da gamba threading exotic Arabic melodies into the vocal harmonies of the singers. Rodríguez soared particularly high on 'Sobreana María,' another lyric addressed to the Virgin, and 'Instrumental otomana,' a real tour de force. Medina alternated impressively between her continuo and melody lines, the Middle-Eastern melody particularly striking in the opening selection, 'Cuando el Rey Nimrod.'

The four vocalists were equally impressive, especially soprano Rocío de Frutos, whose voice - especially in its lower register - thrilled listeners on the anguished courtly love song 'La Rosa Enflorece' and the a cappella lament 'Por Qué Llorax Blanca Niña.' Handsome tenor Ariel Hernández soloed on the Latin hymn 'Pange, Lingua,' and bass Manuel Torrado gave an especially strong performance of 'Ayo Visto Lo Mappamundo.' All four voices, including alto Gabriel Díaz, surprised the audience with the charming New World melody and Quechua lyrics of 'Hanaqpachap Cussincuinin.' After an hour and a half marked by a great variety of tunes and instrumental textures, Musica Ficta was brought back to the stage by rousing applause for two encores. In the second, the group repeated the lively 'Falalalanera,' a melodic cousin to the well-known shepherd's song 'Riu, Riu, Chiu,' to end with a crowd-pleaser.

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