Jordi Savall is strongly devoted, perhaps more so than any other conductor, to Franz Josef Haydn's Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross in its orchestral version, the original incarnation of this masterwork; the familiar string quartet and less familiar solo keyboard and oratorio versions came later. Savall, as is his wont, strongly responds to any music with a historic connection to his native Spain; the commission for the Seven Last Words arrived from José Sáenz de Santmaría of the confraternity of the Hermandad, and it was first performed in Cádiz, the oldest continuously inhabited city in Western Europe.
The origins of the Songs of the Sibyls date back to the 6th century BC. Semi-divine beings, their oracular powers enabled them to predict the future. The myth of the sibyl was appropriated by the early Christians to prophesy the second coming of Christ, heralding the last judgment and the end of the world. This mythological element survived as late as the Middle Ages and even the Renaissance. Originally sung in Latin, the Songs of the Sibyls were traditionally performed by a young boy disguised as a woman during Matins on Christmas Day or during Holy Week in France, Italy and especially the Iberian Peninsula from the 10th century.
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.
Who doesn't love a lullaby? As a tribute "to all mothers and children", singer Montserrat Figueras offers this unusual program of 18 such songs from diverse sources and anonymous composers–Portuguese, English, Greek, Catalan, Hebrew, Sephardic, and North African–as well as pieces written by the likes of Byrd, Mussorgsky, Reger, Falla, Milhaud, and Pärt (two lullabies composed for this recording). Accompaniments show the stylish hand and always-tasteful imaginings of Jordi Savall and the instrumentalists of Hesperion XXI–viols, guitar, flutes, psaltery, harp–and, in three tracks, the piano of Paul Badura-Skoda. Although the liner notes prime us to expect very simple, repetitive tunes, Figueras transforms these ostensibly sleep-inducing songs into high, mind-and-ear-engaging art, embellishing, shaping, and imbuing them with deeply felt expression, sometimes wistful and at others fervent, but always delivered as if in intimate, personal touch with her listener(s).
It is 22 years since Savall and Koopman first recorded the Bach gamba sonatas, in the days when Koopman still looked like he should have been presenting The Old Grey Whistle Test. This release for Savall's own Alia Vox label, however, is right up to date, a tame-haired Koopman and an amazingly unaltered Savall having set them down at the beginning of this year. The recording's quick turnaround is a fitting reflection of the state of the musical relationship that has obtained between these two ever since they first performed together in 1970 after only half an hour's rehearsal. Make no mistake, these Bach performances are right in the slot.
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 liturgy of the Dead – including the Requiem Mass, the Burial Service and the Office of the dead, properly speaking – was granted considerable importance by the Spanish ecclesiastical authorities and by the local church composers from very early times. Throughout the Middle Ages, according to the extant documentary descriptions, the death of a great Lord, such as the Count of Barcelona or the sovereign of any of the Spanish kingdoms of León, Castile, Aragon or Navarre, was usually mourned with impressive ceremonies in which the solemnity of the liturgy was often enhanced by the addition of the planctus, a kind of lengthy optional lament that was sung monophonically and of which several examples have survived.
Despite its hefty, hardbound, 300-plus-page book and attendant top price, Jordi Savall's Venezia Millenaria has appeared on commercial sales charts. It's easy to see why: this is one of Savall's most ambitious concepts, covering the promised millennium of the history of the city of Venice, Italy, plus a bit more as a bonus, taking you up to the end of Venice's independence. The book contains enough information that it could serve as the basis for a little travelers' course, but there's also a case to be made for just listening and letting a thousand years of music wash over you.
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.
Savall and Hesperion XXI often return to the same material, almost obsessively; yet this repertory - the interface of early Iberian art music and the traditional - sustains endless re-visiting and re-interpretation; there can never be one definitive interpretation of this endlessly rewarding music, as Renaissance and Baroque composers knew - producing as they did endless variations on traditional themes which had woven their way from the popular sphere to the realm of 'art' music. Some of these bass melodies are presented here - the 'Follia' and 'Canaries' -and it is wonderful that Savall has the artistic freedom to perform versions of these again and again on his own label, Alia Vox.