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 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.
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.
"Furnished with a varietie of delicious Ayres, collected out of the best authors in English, French, Spanish and Italian". Robert Dowland the son of Dowland "The English Orpheus" was the compiler of this fine anthology dedicated to Sir Robert Sidney, once Lord Chamberlain. In an age of "conceit" It was common enough to select some contrasting idea or image and apply it to an unrelated concept—hence the title "Musicall Banquet" which Robert Dowland charmingly describes as "like a careful confectionary", continuing that "as neere as might be I have fitted my Banquet for all tastes".
Giulio Caccini (c.1550-1618) was born in Rome, and soon took up an important musical post in Florence under the Medicis. He was widely famous, and apparently a very controversial figure, having boasted of inventing the solo chordally-accompanied song. His two collections entited Nuove Musiche of 1602 & 1614 are certainly important to this development, and Caccini was one of a handful of composers to first work in this new style. However, it had become common practice to perform older madrigals in this way via intabulations, so any notion of invention is hazy at best. Nonetheless, Caccini's detailed ornaments given to the printed vocal part are a landmark in composition.