American Record Guide

Both Giacomo Facco (1676-1753) and Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) were violinists and composers based in Venice. Facco’s music had been lost in a fire in the Madrid Royal Palace, but a copy of the 12 concertos in his Opus 1 Pensieri Adriarmonici , published in Amsterdam in 1716 and 1718 and likely taken to Mexico in 1723, was discovered in a library in Mexico City in 1961. The Mexican Baroque Orchestra was formed in 2009 by director and recorder player Miguel Lawrence in order to play this music.

Although playing on modern instruments, the ensemble uses the same forces that were likely used in Mexico in the 17th and 18th Centuries as well as baroque style and articulation.

Starting in the 17th Century, basso continuo in Mexico was played on instruments that today we are most likely to know from mariachi bands, specifically the guitar-shaped vihuela and guittaron. The two instruments are always played together, and the large guittaron (played in the same position as a guitar but with a body wider than a cello) offers the bass notes. The resulting basso continuo group—including cello—works very well with these compositions and doesn’t sound “out of place” at all. The guitar timbre is most evident in the slower movements, and the ensemble blends and balances very well, playing with a nice style and spirit.

The violins sound rather thin sometimes, both in the solo and ensemble concertos. As for the other solo instruments in the Vivaldi concertos, it is interesting to hear psaltery used for the mandolin concerto (R 425). Although it does match the thin string sound here, I don’t like its metallic timbre (I tend to feel the same way about the mandolin), but it is a valid approach that certainly pays homage to the composer’s fondness for writing concertos for unusual instruments. Like their use of vihuela and guittaron, the Mexican Baroque Orchestra’s inclusion of psaltery is not anachronistic, since that instrument has been in Mexico for centuries.

The finest playing here is in the two concertos for sopranino recorder (R 443 and R 445). Miguel Lawrence plays with a most natural birdlike quality that is very attractive and musical. Often these pieces, with their extremely high tessitura, are piercing and onedimensional as the player concentrates on hitting the notes and staying in tune. Here the color is varied and rich, and the virtuoso playing delightful to hear.