Loving performances caught in lovely sound, so what's not to love? Not, as it turns out, much, but not, regrettably, nothing at all. Jordi Savall, the gambist cum conductor who directs Le Concert Des Nations, is a genial, even affectionate leader who in these four light works of Mozart grants his players a considerable amount of interpretive freedom. Le Concert Des Nations, Savall's all-purpose classical and pre-classical chamber orchestra, responds with funny, even frothy, playing is as technically assured as it is brilliantly colorful. Alia Vox, Savall's label for everything he records from El Sabio to Monteverdi, catches the performances in a warm, natural, and deep acoustic of amazing vividness.
This is a reissue of a recording from 1993 (re-released a few years ago and deleted in 2003), recently remastered for SACD, and it really impresses with a renewed presence and impact, even on standard CD playback. As I said in my original review, Savall's reading "comes as close as these things can to placing us in the best seat in the house and treats us to a rare experience: the sensation of believing we're hearing a ruggedly familiar piece for the first time. Literally bursting with energy, scintillating strings, blazing horns, and incisive winds, and never boring even for one second, these performances give you Handel at his most exciting." If you have the earlier release, you probably don't need this one–unless you now own an SACD system–but it does deserve a place in every Handel collection, not only for the unsurpassed performances, but also for the effect of Savall's several decidedly "non-standard" tempos(!), and of course for the phenomenal sound, which now must have reached its ultimate realism in this format.
Jordi Savall's exemplary performance of Handel's Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks is among the finest available on disc: refined and precise, but very big, with blood-stirring grandeur. This is just the kind of extroverted, rousing presentation that best highlights the music's open-air ceremonial function. Savall's Le Concert des Nations is essentially a chamber orchestra with double or triple winds, but the sound he elicits from the group is majestic and surprisingly powerful. The playing is crisp and the rhythmic articulation bracing, but the sound is never brash. In fact, more often than not it is seductively sensual, a heady integration of precision and supple, shapely phrasing. Handel left no authoritative edition of the score of Water Music and it has traditionally been divided into three suites, but Savall reorders the material into two suites, a decision that makes more sense in terms of key relationships and that sounds entirely satisfying.
This 68-minute program–a compilation of recordings made by Jordi Savall, Montserrat Figueras & Co. during the years 1976 and 2008 (including several selections originally released on dhm and Virgin Classics)–proved one of those purely pleasurable, effortlessly rewarding listening sessions that only rarely come along. We don't often review compilations drawn from multiple recordings made in different venues and over many years–they're so often programmatically disjointed and sonically varied; but in this case it doesn't matter. The music is compatible stylistically and these performers are so consistent in the quality and care and vitality of their performances that, well, what's 30 years or so?
Le Concert Spirituel was essentially a Parisian concert series held at the Tuileries Palace, begun in 1725 as an opportunity for musical performances during Lent and other Holy Days when secular musical activities like opera were forbidden. The concerts continued until 1790, just after the beginning of the French Revolution. The music of French composers filled most of the programs, but German and Italian music was occasionally heard, and this CD includes five pieces by Corelli, Telemann, and Rameau that were known to have been played at the concerts. Jordi Savall and Le Concert des Nations, one of the many stellar ensembles he is responsible for founding, play these works with such surging vibrancy that anyone who thinks of the Baroque as a period of stiff formality would be disabused of that notion on hearing these performances.
The 1991 French film Tous les matins du monde (All the Mornings of the World) attracted an audience of unexpected size for a story about French Baroque viol music, becoming a runaway hit in France and Germany and even gained wide distribution in the classical-chary U.S. The commercial ramifications grew with the release of the film's soundtrack, featuring early music giant Jordi Savall on viol; the soundtrack achieved platinum sales levels in its initial release. The film's story, built on a very few sketchy facts about the reclusive seventeenth century viol player known only as Monsieur de Sainte Colombe, drew viewers with its modern resonances touching on the conflict between art and popular success, and partly with its dramatic lighting reminiscent of the paintings of Louis le Nain. The soundtrack has a few pieces with vocals or with a small ensemble of other players.
This double album is an invitation to explore the forces of nature, so vividly depicted by the composers at the turn of the XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries. With this stunning (and first) recording of Jean-Fery Rebel’s Les Elements, Jordi Savall displays his unmatched vision of the baroque orchestral repertoire, proving that authenticity and timbral beauty aren’t mutually exclusive. New recordings of works by Locke, Vivaldi, Marais, Telemann and Rameau - a splendidly varied and expressively wide-ranging selection - is a welcome addition to the existing landmark recordings made by Savall in this repertoire.
This is an SACD reissue on Alia Vox of a CD originally released in 1996 as Astrée 8717. Fans of Savall know that his conducting reflects similar values to his viola da gamba solos: a nuanced view of phrasing, exceptional attention to the beauty and clarity of textures, and a knowledge of appropriate embellishments. These qualities can be found in some of the outstanding slow movements on this disc, most notably “Love’s a Sweet Passion” from act III of The Fairy Queen . Savall’s version takes 3:06 to play; by comparison, Goodman/Parley of Instruments (Hyperion 67001) gives it to us at 1:34; and Gardiner/English Baroque Soloists (Archiv Produktion 992902) is not much longer. It isn’t that Savall’s Le Concert des Nations plays twice as much content, but that they inflect far more, slowing for embellishments to the theme, pausing at the climax of a phrase, or at its conclusion. It’s anyone’s guess which approach is more authentic, but I find Savall’s phrasing, along with a slightly lower pitch and predominance of darker string instruments, mines the natural melancholy of Purcell’s piece to greater advantage without danger of anachronism.