Concert Hall, February 25


Savall viol res
Jordi Savall. Photo: Toni Peñarroya.

Recreating with “authenticity” music from before the recording era is fraught with peril. The older the music the greater the danger of misinterpreting notated intentions and of reverentially setting in stone what was actually as fluid as water. Catalan Jordi Savall’s reputation as a preeminent performer of early music rests on his profound understanding that the art of recreating the past is to place it in the present.

That art is not a mildewy manuscript from 450 years ago, but a concert of the contents, and in performance Savall restores improvisation – the ultimate assertion of the present – to its rightful place at the music’s core.

This concert, Folias Antiguas & Criollas (subtitled From the Ancient World to the New World), explored the interrelationship between the folia dance form in baroque Spain and its more folkloric guises in the New World. It continued a decade-old collaboration between Savall’s Hesperion XXI (here a quintet) and the Mexican sextet Tembembe Ensamble Continuo. It also turned a musicology lesson into often sublime entertainment.

Like many of Savall’s multifarious projects – when last here he presented music relevant to Jerusalem and its three faiths – this one involved hybridization. A conceptual line running through all his work suggests humanity’s commonalities outweigh the differences, however, with this applying across both time and space. Indeed the lyric to Jarabe loco (related to a piece by the 16th-century Italian Antonio Valente) penned by its singer Enrique Barona (of Tembembe) told us: “At last they are united, the old and the new world.”

While the gulf between the grace of the Spanish baroque and the feisty rusticity of the Mexican dances could sometimes seem dizzyingly high and wide to skip across so lightly from one piece to the next, ultimately – and this is another Savall hallmark – it was a dialogue. Similarly the glorious improvisations by the leader on his treble and bass viols (both dating from the 16th century) and Xavier Diaz-Latorre (baroque guitar) were conversations with the thematic material, and even Savall’s sound had a dialogue between graininess and ethereality.

While there are other Savall projects I prefer (and this one had some minor sonic and precision issues), who else would do this, let alone with such mastery and sensitivity? Who else would draw together these shared and disparate threads of the Old World and the New, of then and now?