The old saying of "Oh East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet" may have been written by Rudjard Kipling in reference to India and the West, but it's often been quoted by those wishing to stress the impossibility of us ever finding common ground with anybody East of Europe. However, Jordi Savall and the collection of Japanese and Spanish musicians he's gathered around him prove the lie in that statement over and over again with Hispania & Japan: Dialogues.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Capella Reial de Catalunya, the choir he founded in 1988, Jordo Savall has gathered four examples of their work, rich in Catalan heritage, luxuriously presented in a box and all published originally on the Astree label. In 1987, after 13 years of intense research, concerts and recordings with the ensemble Hespèrion XX, the decision to send our children to school in Catalonia led to us spending more time there and gave us the opportunity to contact and select various Romance language-speaking singers from Catalonia, Spain and other countries. Convinced of the defining influence that a country’s cultural roots and traditions inevitably have on the expression of its musical language, Montserrat Figueras and I founded La Capella Reial with the aim of creating one of the first vocal ensembles devoted exclusively to the performance of Golden Age music according to historical principles and consisting exclusively of Hispanic and Latin voices.
The Misteri d'Elx (Mystery Play of Elche) is a religious drama performed annually in the southeastern Spanish city of Elche (or Elx in the local dialect) since medieval times. The play reenacts the Assumption of Mary in a two-act musical production, entirely sung, that takes place over two successive days in August. The Mystery Play is a major European tourist attraction, and UNESCO in 2001 named it a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. With typical boldness, Jordi Savall and La Capella Reial de Catalunya plunge into a slice of the musical past that is rewarding yet raises complex issues in performance. Here, however, the group is not resurrecting a half-buried tradition but rather dealing with one that is living.
This disc of Iberian and Latin American Renaissance music is a reissue cleverly disguised as a new release. It compiles music from several recordings by Catalonian visionary Jordi Savall, his luminous-voiced collaborator Montserrat Figueras, and his Hesperion XXI and Capella Reial de Catalunya ensembles, dressing them up with a new set of rather philosophical booklet notes on themes of change, of intercultural tolerance, and of the evolving nature of Christianity in the Iberian realm and in New Spain. Some might call this a cynical ploy, but actually Savall has always been moving in a circle, so to speak, spiraling inward toward a deeper musical understanding of the historical themes touched on here: the lingering effects of the legacy of medieval Iberia and its "mestissage" or mixture of cultures, the reign of Holy Roman Emperor Charles (Carlos) V (did you know that he was both the first monarch to be called "His Majesty" and the first to be honored with the claim that the "sun never set" on his empire?), and the relationships between cultivated and popular styles, both in Iberia and the New World.