Saturday 24 January 2015

Jordi Savall and his colleagues bring us La Lira D’Espéria II an extremely fine follow up to their original 1994 recording La Lira D’Espéria on a new release from Alia Vox

The Catalan-Spanish viol player, conductor and composer Jordi Savall
(Jordi Savall i Bernadet), born in 1941 is one of the major figures in the early music world performing on period instruments with a repertoire centring on medieval, renaissance and baroque music.

He studied at the Barcelona Conservatory of Music specialising in early music before going on to study with August Wenzinger at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basel, Switzerland, later succeeding his teacher as professor of viola da gamba at that institute.

In 1974, together with his late wife, soprano Montserrat Figueras, Lorenzo Alpert and Hopkinson Smith, he formed the ensemble Hespèrion XX, later known as Hespèrion XXI. In 1987 he returned to Barcelona to found La Capella Reial de Catalunya, a vocal ensemble devoted to pre-eighteenth-century music. In 1989 he founded Le Concert des Nations, an orchestra generally specialising in the Baroque period, but with occasional performances of later music.

More recently, Savall has performed with family members. The family ensemble has included his late wife and their two children, Arianna and Ferran. Arianna Savall plays the harp and sings and Ferran Savall plays the theorbo and sings. Jordi Savall has won numerous awards and has made a large number of recordings mainly on the Alia Vox label.

Jordi Savall has probably delved further into early music than any other musician, something which can be heard in his 1994 recording, La Lira d’Espéria, which was the result of several years of research and was devoted to the medieval repertory for bowed instruments and consists of music from the various Christian, Jewish and Arabo-Andalusian cultures that existed in ancient Iberia and Italica. Performed on Savall’s three early instruments the Rebec, the Tenor Fiddle and the Rabab (Rabel morisco) with the Pedro Estevan playing a variety of percussion instruments, the name of the disc refers to the ancient names of Lyra, one of the first musical instruments to be described in the Greek myths and Hesperia, the name the Ancient Greeks gave to the two western most peninsulas in the Mediterranean: the Italic and the Iberian peninsulas.

Now from Alia Vox comes La Lira D’Espéria II where Jordi Savall, Pedro Estavan  and David Mayoral focus exclusively on the historical, traditional music of Galicia.

Jordi Savall tells us that there were two types of lyra in ancient times: the first, most commonly found in antiquity, resembled a small harp and was played by plucking its strings, and the more modern type, played with a bow, which is closer to the present day Greek lyre. 

It is in Iberian Hesperia that the earliest traces of bowed instruments can be found. It is highly probable that the technique of bowing was introduced around the 8th century and gradually developed in Europe thanks to musicians who travelled here from the Arabo-Islamic countries in the East. These developments gave rise to the vielle, or medieval fiddle which, together with the harp, was an indispensable instrument both at court and among the nobility.

Savall goes on to say that only the sounds and techniques of certain modern-day folk instruments such as those played in Crete, Macedonia, Morocco and India can give us a rough idea of this ancient music.

Jordi Savall plays a rebâb or rebec (on the Iberian peninsula known as the rabé morisco) probably of oriental origin dating from around the 14th century, a 5 string rebec by an anonymous Italian luthier dating from around the mid15th century and an anonymous 5 string tenor fiddle/Vielle. The percussion instruments played by Pedro Estavan are the darbuka (a goblet shaped drum), tambour (a snare drum used in the galician music), bells and three types of tambourine, the adufe (a traditional square tambourine of Moorish origin), tamburello (type of Italian tambourine) and pandereta (Spanish tambourine). David Mayoral plays the req (a traditional tambourine used in Arabic music), pandereta, pandeiro (a Brazilian relative of the tambourine), adufe and tambour.

Much of the music performed here is from the manuscript of the Cantigas de Santa Maria (Canticles of Holy Mary), compiled by King Alfonso X ‘The Wise’ (‘El Sabio’) of Castile and Leon (1221-1284). These pieces are interspersed by traditional Galician music.

Invocación & Ductia from the manuscript of Alfonso X El Sabio creates some extraordinary sounds from the rebel morisco (rebâb) with colourful rhythmic percussion form the pandereta, darbuka and tamburello. The repetitive nature of the music is broken up by wonderfully varied textures and colour from Savall’s old instrument as well as the rhythmic quality of the music. The same can be said for Ronda (Alfonso X El Sabio) that also has some attractive drone like passages and many varied tempi and rhythms.

Savall switches to the rebec for Alalá Canção d’embalar, a traditional Galician piece that brings a change with its plaintive slow melody to which Savall brings exquisite sonorities, full of Moorish influences, quite mesmeric. The music is exquisitely played as it fades in and out at the end as though disappearing into the mists of time.

The traditional Galician Pandeirada Estreliña do Luceiro has a similar nature, a slowly drawn melody, this time accompanied by a quiet and discrete adufe. The textures in Rotundellus  (Alfonso X El Sabio) are more vibrant as Savall turns to the vièle tenor, slowly gaining in rhythmic bounce as the adufe and tamburello enter.

Two more traditional Galician pieces follow, Istampita En querer which brings a slow rhythmic  dance distinctively pointed up by the pandereta and tampour with the feel of a procession in its inexorable onward tread and Maruxina where Pedro Estavan’s darbuka opens before Jordi Savall enters with the rebel morisco and some lovely strings sounds with a real bite. It is terrific how Savall draws such varied sounds from his instrument.

Gentle bells open Pregaria En a gran coita (Alfonso X El Sabio) before the rebec enters in a mournful melody creating a wonderful atmosphere. Saltarello (Alfonso X El Sabio) brings a lively dance with, again, Savall drawing such different sonorities and textures from his rebec with fine accompaniment from Estavan’s darbuka and pandereta.

The traditional Galicia Nana - Canção d’embalar bring a slower, more thoughtful piece with bell chimes throughout as Savall weaves a lovely melody before the traditional Dança Caminando that continues slowly and steadily with gentle percussion and mellow sonorities.

Cantiga - A Virgen - Ronda - Baile (Alfonso X El Sabio) has slow but sudden little surges from Savall on his rebec, before slowly the adufe brings its deep rhythmic echoes. This is a terrific piece. Invocaçao & Alborada is another traditional Galician piece with some incisive chords on the rebel morisco before this weighty piece advances with deep heavy drumming from the tambour.

Savall weaves a lovely sound from his rebel morisco in Ductia De Santa Maria (Alfonso X El Sabio) as it slowly takes off rhythmically with the tamburello and tambour joining. Cantiga Virgen Madre grorioso (Alfonso X El Sabio) brings a slow melody for the rebec pointed up by bells with a somewhat melancholy feel, full of strange atmosphere. Savall with the rebec brings Istampita & Rota Ciudad Rodrigo (Alfonso X El Sabio) following Cantiga Virgen Madre grorioso slowly before soon adopting a livelier rhythm with a fine accompaniment of the pandereta with an intoxicating bounce.

Savall returns to the vièle ténor in the traditional Galician piece Panxolina Vinde, picariñas - Baile Da Terra Os fillos dos ricos returning us to a slower pace, full of pathos, becoming more animated and rhythmic as percussion join. Folidada Don Alfonso (Alfonso X El Sabio) has a slow melody full of atmosphere and fine sonorities from Savall on the rebec that grows in rhythmic tempo as the darbuka and tamburello join. Savall weaves some lovely lines on the vièle tenor in the traditional Galician Cação La moza que rabió and Baile providing some glorious sonorities, textures and colours in this solo piece before speeding to the coda.

Ductia & Rota (Alfonso X El Sabio) brings a fine rhythmic pace with wonderfully varied rhythms and textures from the vièle tenor and percussion. David Mayoral joins for the last three tracks; firstly with the traditional Galician Aiñhara & Canto De Ciego 1 where Savall produces more fine sonorities from his rebel morisco, soon becoming more dynamic with the pandereta, pandeiro and tambour joining in a dramatic plodding section.

Another Galician piece is Canto De Ciego 2Lamento that has a fine opening from Savall with his rebel morisco before the thunderous tambour enters as the music rises and falls in drama, moving inexorably forward. This is another terrific piece.
Canto De Despedida  Adiós meu homiño and Danza Airiños rises gently on the rebel morisco before the percussion bring a rhythmic weight carrying the music forward with Savall providing more fine textures and sonorities and a lighter rhythmic section midway.

Jordi Savall and his colleagues bring us another extremely fine disc to follow up their original 1994 recording. They receive a first rate recording and Alia Vox provide a lavishly illustrated booklet with illustrations and notes by Jordi Savall.

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