“My work is not of interest in Spain”, said Jordi Savall in a recent interview. By that he ostensibly meant decision-makers at the Ministry of Culture, whose alleged apathy starkly contrasts with the fervent audience that packed the Auditorio Nacional this winter evening in Madrid.

Jordi Savall
Jordi Savall

“Les goûts réunis”, the title of a set of pieces Couperin composed in 1724, was borrowed to serve as the enticing heading of a programme that included however no music from le Grand. It did nevertheless convey the spirit of the programme, in as far as it reunited melody and harmony, the two styles many would have described as antagonistic. Much of this concert came to prove that both can, as we know, go hand in hand.

A careful selection spanning over a century – from the late Renaissance through to fully-blown Baroque – it went a long way in illustrating similarities and differences between composers that were close in time but far in geography, or vice versa. Music from England, Italy, France and Spain, some written, much improvised, quickly warmed up the hall and delivered what could have well been deemed as a homage to the viol.

The evening started with Folías y Romanescas from Spanish composer Diego Ortiz, who was instrumental in establishing the first viol school we are aware of today. He did so in Naples, the home town of Antonio Valente, another of the chosen composers for the programme, whose Gallarda Napolitana allowed for playful improvisation. Still, the most moving moments in the first half of the programme were the solo pieces – on the one hand, Tobias Hume’s nearly programmatic Musical Humors, which gives some early examples of the use of pizzicato and the practice of col legno (striking the string with the wooden part of the bow); and on the other, Gaspar Sanz’s Jácaras y canarios for guitar. The latter stood out as subtle and technically challenging music, wisely played by Xavier Díaz-Latorre.

It seems in fact unfair to describe this as a Savall concert, when in fact Díaz-Latorre, introduced as his collaborator, played at least as fundamental a role and provided some of the most memorable moments of the evening. Always a reliable basso continuo, he also exhibited a nuanced and delicate sound as a soloist, both playing Sanz’s aforementioned pieces and later unpacking Robert de Visée’s exquisite Chaconne for the theorbo.

There was more music to be enjoyed in the second part. Savall was at his finest in his rendering performance of Messsieurs de Sainte-Colombe’s (both father and son) music and Bach’s Bourée in G major in a rich pizzicato version. He dedicated this three-in-one collection to his late wife, soprano Montserrat Figueras, who passed away two years ago on this date and who has left many fond memories and a sense of emptiness in this hall and elsewhere.

Music from Marin Marais closed the official programme, his Les Voix Humaines a testament to the work many explored to test the expressiveness of the viol, an instrument which history would still have a long path ahead in many unimagined ways.

All four instruments were brought back for the encores: the treble viol and the guitar joined up to recreate a Mexican Guaracha dance and the bass viol and the theorbo worked wonders together in reviving the Brittany traditional lullaby that has seen many a subsequent transcriptions, and which is often referred to as the shepherd love song Que ne suis-je la fougère or as the Carnival song Adieu pauvre Carnaval in its sung equivalents.

Much of Europe awaits Jordi Savall this winter, either as a soloist or as the leader of Hespèrion XXI, the Capella Reial de Catalunya and Le Concert des Nations. The interest is more than palpable.

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