Morales's five-part setting of the Requiem is one of the masterpieces of the 16th century and was actually published twice during his lifetime. The 'Missa pro defunctis' follows the customary pattern of the time. Each section begins with a unison Gregorian intonation, which then continues as a cantus firmus in the upper part as the other voices spin a polyphonic texture underneath. The work avoids obvious madrigalisms, but maintains an austere, meditative texture, which is both spiritual and moving.
Like the Renaissance itself, Music for the Spanish Kings begins with a strutting fanfare and ends with a melancholic sigh. Attaining his usual high standards, Jordi Savall has fashioned a poignant and varied musical portrait of the century encompassing the reigns of three Spanish kings: Alphonso I (1442-58), Ferdinand I (1458-94), and Charles V (1516-56). Montserrat Figueras' rich mezzo-soprano voice carries over half the pieces on the first disc. Her stunning vibrato imparts a troupadour's sadness to the cancions.
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.
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?
Sixteenth-century Spanish composer Francisco Guerrero is featured in a reissued disc of motets for four, five, six, eight and 12 voices, with and without instruments. They come from a handful of collections published between 1555 and 1597 and show Guerrero’s skill in evoking a wide range of moods, joyful, sombre and contemplative in turn. Jordi Savall’s ensemble is well-equipped to project the skilfully wrought structures and expressive allure of the music. Some of the pieces fare better than others in respect of vocal texture and ensemble. Tenors and basses occasionally lack tonal refinement but, at their strongest the performances provide a radiant conspectus of Guerrero’s masterly motets.
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.