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".
Jordi Savall (born 1941), one of the world's leading players of the viola da gamba, founded the ensemble Hespиrion XX in 1974. Savall's goal — and that of co-founders Montserrat Figueras, Hopkinson Smith, and Lorenzo Alpert — was to explore lesser-known repertories of the European Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Baroque periods; their special love has been early Spanish music. The group has toured over five continents and produced well over 50 recordings (many on the Astree Audivis label). The group's membership changes with the repertory of an individual recording or performance project, and with the particular orchestration envisioned by Savall.
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.
Monteverdi's madrigals were the laboratory in which he sought the connections between music and the emotions, and none are more moving and evocative than those of his eighth and final book, the "Madrigali Guerrieri et Amorosi," (1638). This release offers only a selection, but puts the music's drama in gratifyingly high relief. It's a beautifully sung, ravishingly played and lushly recorded collection, "Madrigali Guerrieri et Amorosi," by Jordi Savall and La Capella Reial de Catalunya (Astree E 8546). Dynamics are supple, coloration is flexible and expressive dissonances are pointed up in a way that gives works like "Lamento della Ninfa" and "Gira il nemico" an unusually vivid edge.
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?