In the semi-darkness within a grotto beneath the church of Santo Rosario in Cadiz, the bishop pronounced one of the seven Last Words of Christ, then, during the ensuing silence, the orchestra played… Commissioned from Haydn in 1786, these seven mystical sonatas, with their sombre melody, take their inspiration from the rhythm of each of the seven Words. Preceded by a noble Prelude and followed by an impressive Terremoto (Earthquake), there have been various versions (piano, string quartet, vocal), but here they are presented in the original version and with all the glowing colours of the Concert des Nations.
Morales's five-part setting of the Requiem is one of the masterpieces of the 16th century and was actually published twice during his lifetime. The 'Missa pro defunctis' follows the customary pattern of the time. Each section begins with a unison Gregorian intonation, which then continues as a cantus firmus in the upper part as the other voices spin a polyphonic texture underneath. The work avoids obvious madrigalisms, but maintains an austere, meditative texture, which is both spiritual and moving.
Intellectually concentrated, emotionally intense, technically difficult, and spiritually sublime, Henry Purcell's Fantasias for the Viols are exactly the sort of music that Jordi Savall was born to play and play superbly. And with his group Hesperion XX, they play them as superbly Savall does. The depth of tone of the instruments, the brilliance of the technique, the rigor of the interpretations, the soulfulness of the understanding, and the transcendence of compassion are nonpareil and the performances achieve a level unmatched by any other.
Like the Renaissance itself, Music for the Spanish Kings begins with a strutting fanfare and ends with a melancholic sigh. Attaining his usual high standards, Jordi Savall has fashioned a poignant and varied musical portrait of the century encompassing the reigns of three Spanish kings: Alphonso I (1442-58), Ferdinand I (1458-94), and Charles V (1516-56). Montserrat Figueras' rich mezzo-soprano voice carries over half the pieces on the first disc. Her stunning vibrato imparts a troupadour's sadness to the cancions.
On this recording of The Seven Words, the Rosamunde String Quartet offers a compelling rendition of one of Haydn's most complex compositions. The Seven Words was originally composed for a full orchestra as a series of seven adagios, which were meant to be interludes during a congregation's meditations on the last seven words of Christ on the Cross. Haydn struggled with a way to compose seven connected pieces of music that were solemn and yet varied enough to keep the listener from getting bored. The members of the Rosamunde Quartet are technically brilliant as they demonstrate the composer's solutions to this musical puzzle. Even though the tempo is slow, they never let the music become ponderous or oppressive. But to Haydn, The Seven Words was more than just an aural conundrum. He felt the composition was perhaps his most sacred work, and the quartet plays this music with reverence for the composer's spiritual intentions. This is a profound piece of music, and the Rosamunde does it justice on each of its many levels.
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.