There are more than one dozen recordings of Monteverdi's great masterpiece, the Vespers of 1610, a distinction reserved for very few works and composers from the late 16th and early 17th centuries. With this kind of attention, you'd think that this substantial work for choir, soloists, and instruments would be more easily accessible–but it is in fact a structurally complex and musically intricate compilation of hymns, antiphons, and psalms, concluding with a magnificent setting of the Magnificat. Most recordings can't seem to overcome the strategic and technical problems of presenting such a three-dimensional work on a recording. But this one is different: the music literally comes alive and grabs our attention. If you're in the market for Monteverdi's Vespers, look no further. This is the most dynamic, dramatic version on disc.
Luis de Milan’s instrument was the Spanish vihuela, shaped like a guitar and tuned like a lute, for the existence of which his book El Maestro (1536) is the earliest known evidence, and one by Antonio de Santa Cruz (seventeenth century, undated) the last. When it was born, and when and why it died, remain unclear. El Maestro was both a collection of pieces and a thoughtful tutor book, containing much valuable information on the music of the time and on the manner of its performance; in some fantasias it is indicated which passages are to be played ‘broadly’ and in time, and which are to be delivered more quickly.
Samuel Scheidt (baptized November 3, 1587 – March 24, 1653) was a German composer, organist and teacher of the early Baroque era. Samuel Scheidt published 4 collections entitled Ludi Musici between 1621 & 1627, whereas only the first publication (from which the present program is taken) survives complete. Scheidt continues to be the most significant of the early North German instrumental composers.
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.
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.
It is only recently that two seemingly unconnected names, those of Vivaldi and the viola da gamba, have been uttered in the same breath. The established, uncontested view on the matter was quite simply this: from the middle of the 17th century, the viol, which was still flourishing north of the Alps, had all but disappeared in Italy, where it had been replaced by the bass violin and, subsequently, by the cello.
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.
Original released by Auvidis France in 1986. This reissue released by Auvidis-Naïve in 2000 (ES 9956). Couperin places himself between the Italian and French musical styles of his day to create something rather greater than either. For the most part early works, these sonatas with dance suites combine the style of Lully and Louis XIV's court with Corelli's brilliance: the result is a Grand Tour of the high Baroque, given, s'il vous plait, with a French accent. Savall's rendition, true to form, is dark, elegant, and supple. He assigns the trio-sonata texture to differing combinations of violins, oboes, and traversi, all with a large and inspired continuo group. Performers: Monica Huggett, Chiara Banchini, Ton Koopman, Hopkinson Smith, Stephen Preston, Ku Ebbinge &c. Highly recommended.
In AliaVox’s release of the album Entremeses Del Siglo De Oro: Lope de Vega y su tiempo (1550-1650), which translates to “Intermission [music] of the Golden Century: Lope de Vega and his era,” we find soprano Montserrat Figueras and the group Hespèrion XX, Jordi Savall conducting, bringing us some of the finest examples of period music that I know of. The voice of Montserrat Figueras has the limpid and pure quality of a fine recorder, that is, each note is nearly as possible free from embellishment that became part and parcel of vocal training in the following centuries. The ensemble playing of Hespèrion, a group I’ve known for ten years, has never sounded better. Hats off to Jordi Savall. The music itself is akin to entre-act music written for the Elizabethan theater, most notably Shakespeare’s plays. You’ll note the similarity of the Spanish word entremeses and the English word intermission.
The name of the Balkans has an unusually graphic etymology: having discovered the beauty of this pivotal part of Europe, which stretches from Italy to the Bosphorous, and the ruggedness of its people, who put up fierce resistance to invasion, the Turks chose to describe the region with the words Bal (Honey) and Kan (Blood). Honey & Blood: never was there so apt a metaphor! So much richness and drama packed into such a small area is guaranteed to fire the imagination of historians and artists, especially musicians. Thanks to the magic of an ambitious programme built around the cycles of life, Jordi Savall invites us to travel the length and breadth of a region which has always had more than its share of human and historical drama. 230 minutes of music scan the full range of human emotions illuminated by 1001 different musical traditions, all of which nevertheless spring from a common source. "The future belongs to those with the longest memory", wrote Nietzsche. Once more, Jordi Savall brilliantly demonstrates that music is a key component of the collective memory that enables us to face our future. This lavishly documented CD-Book, translated into 12 languages, is a must for any self-respecting collector.