The Chicago Arts Orchestra and Chorus specialize in exploring the music of New Spain. Their first release was “Al Combate: Rediscovered Galant Music from Eighteen-Century Mexico.”

It featured works by  Ignacio Jerusalem and Santiago Billoni. This release delves deeper into Jerusalem’s repertoire, presenting a mass, a symphony, and some shorter choral works.

Ignacio Jerusalem emigrated to Mexico in 1742. In short order, he became the Lully of Mexico City (that’s how I’d put it). He was chapel master at the Catedral de México.

He composed prolifically, and in the process changed Mexican sacred music from a Palestrina-inspired style to a lighter, tuneful Galant style.

He also modernized notation for the Latin church’s music copyists. The cathedral orchestra expanded under Jerusalem’s direction.

This album gives us a good idea of what all that meant. The works are mostly late, from around 1760. Jerusalem’s choral writing is far removed from Mexico’s then-current proto-Palestrina style. The choruses are mainly homophonic, with only a modicum of counterpoint.

This Galant style is especially evident in the Symphony in G with Hunting Horns. It strongly reminds me of the Mannheim School composers, such as Carl Stamitz. The music has a wide dynamic range. The ensemble swells in volume at key points, emulating (after a fashion) the Mannheim Rocket.

Jerusalem’s work is quite interesting and historically important. His music spread across New Spain and served to inspire others. The Chicago Arts Orchestra under the direction of Javier Mendoza delivers some good performances. Mendoza has made a study of Jerusalem’s music and he brings out the cosmopolitan nature of this Italian transplant’s work.

But I don’t think they’re served well by the recording. The sound seemed a little closed-in to me, both of the orchestra and the chorus. The soloists also sounded a little thin. The musical selections made me happy. The recorded sound less so.

Ignacio Jerusalem: Mass in G “De los Ninos”
Symphony in G with Hunting Horns
Chicago Arts Orchestra and Chorus; Javier Jose Mendoza, artistic director
Navona