Jordi Savall has brought us yet another treasure on his own Alia Vox label, this time a mixed bag of music by Reformation Era composers and a handful of slightly earlier works. It’s all taken from a concert program Savall gave last year under the aegis of “greatest hits of the court of Charles V”. The composers presented are mostly court musicians for that Holy Roman Emperor, but Josquin and Heinrich Isaac also are included, the latter as a nod to Charles’ grandfather, Maximilian I, who was responsible for getting Charles the crown. Savall combines his first-rate instrumental ensemble, updated to Hespèrion XXI, with his own vocal group, La Capella Reial de Catalunya. The results are captivating. Savall’s musicians are tops in the field, and their collective talents, constantly on display in this varied program, are simply a joy to hear.
The works on this 2-CD set all come from a single source: a document called "Cancionero de Montecassino" which is believed to contain works composed between 1430 and 1480. Somehow the document has survived down through the centuries; it was almost lost when the Abbey where it was stored was bombed in 1944. Luckily the document survived so that this amazing CD set could be recorded by the - also amazing - Le Capella Reial de Catalunya. This CD is the second in a series entitled "Musicas Reales", the first of which being "Carlos V" containing works mainly from the 16th century. If you enjoyed that one, then "Alfons V el Magnanim" will be a welcome addition to your CD spinner.
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 beautiful recording, once long out-of-print, is now remastered in high definition multi-channel hybrid SACD, and is the first album made by Jordi Savall for the Astrée label, now reissued on Alia Vox. With this rare 1975 disc, Savall confirmed François Couperin as a master composer for viola da gamba with affinities to the previous masters of French music. On the recording Mr. Savall plays an authentic 7-string bass viol, anonymously constructed in 17th century France. He is joined by musicians Ton Koopman playing a Gilbert des Ruisseaux harpsichord built in the late 17th century and Ariane Maurette playing a Barak Norman bass viol constructed in London in 1697. Couperin’s music for these colorful instruments is marvelous, contemplative and beguiling. The highly collectible album, a must-have of the Savall oeuvre, is now available again and features a very informative booklet.
Although the first full consort of viols did not arrive in England until 1540, there were actually several intriguing examples of what are now called "consort" music from before that time. Of course, the homogenous viol consort became supreme, and the present program (also featuring some 2-lute arrangements) focuses on the first part of that repertory. This developed at Elizabeth's court in the 1570s & 1580s, among professional musicians, but based on relatively restrictive models. Some pieces in the present program are composed freely, heralding the next step in consort development which, along with the small output of Byrd, allowed the English consort idiom to fully flower. Of course that was followed closely by the even larger and more famous repertory of consort music by composers such as Gibbons which was eventually geared more toward amateur players.
Lawes's "sets" are actually suites for five or six viols with an organ playing "underneath" them. Each shortish set is broken into even shorter parts: Fantazy, Aire, Paven, etc.–and while the formula remains essentially the same, the textures and harmonies are constantly changing, with dissonances and conversations between and among the various strings giving the works great variety. On these two beautiful CDs (the first devoted to Five parts, the second to Six), Jordi Savall and Hesperion XXI play on a pair of violins, four viols, and organ, offering great contrast and flavor and making us aware of just how energetic and fascinating counterpoint can be. The colors the six (or seven) musicians get from their instruments and the interplay among them is fantastic; the playing is superb. Fans of any type of chamber music will want to hear what this underrecorded composer who died too young (43) added to the genre. It's as if he created a new language, one that seems to have been waiting to be heard. A lovely, thoughtful couple of hours of music-making.
This album, originally recorded in 1992, was remastered in 2008 and issued as part of the Heritage series of Jordi Savall's Alia Vox label in a nifty combination of reissue and improvement. The album certainly qualifies as one of the greatest hits of Savall (whose role here is as gambist, with a small ensemble of northern European players ) and his wife, soprano Montserrat Figueras, who is the star of the show. Figueras' vocals are as usual a central attraction, with their incredible combination of suppleness, accuracy over a wide range, expression, and Iberian gutsiness. But the program here, though somewhat removed from the Iberian core of the Figueras/Savall repertory, is equally compelling.