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May 11, 2007
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Volume 35
Issue 19
 
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Jordi Savall at Town Hall: Elegance and passion in unlikely places
Jordi Savall at Town Hall: Elegance and passion in unlikely places
by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Anyone who knows the world of early music knows the reputation of Jordi Savall. Thus, every possible seat in Town Hall was full of expectant listeners as Savall, with harpsichordist Pierre Hantai and Theorbo player Xavier Diaz-Latorre, took the stage. This audience was not going to be disappointed, for what followed was one of the most satisfying evenings of music making to be had anywhere.

In a program expertly gauged for variety and musical nourishment, Savall and company spiced the meal with just the right mix of solemnity and fun. And throughout they displayed not only phenomenal virtuosity but also an ensemble that never slipped below perfection. Their passion for the music was cloaked in an elegance that elevated their performance to one of both warmth and aristocratic grace. It was as though we were invited into some fine gentleman's parlor for a special treat.

We began with a set of pieces by Diego Ortiz (c.1510-c.1570). As the trio of instruments blended, the texture nonetheless kept changing. Sometimes the viol emitted surprisingly percussive bursts amidst the beautiful legato flow of its melody. Amazing virtuosic flare appeared easy and always musical. Xavier Diaz-Latorre switched between his theorbo and baroque guitar. One was struck by the extraordinary beauty of the sound of the harpsichord, the product of Seattlite David Calhoun, who had to re-tune it at the last minute when the artists requested a 440-cycle standard.

I think the elegant grace that pervaded everything came primarily from Savall's personality, as was evidenced by his introduction and verbal guidance when he followed the opening set with one entitled 'Musical Humors' to music by Tobias Hume (c.1579-1645). Here again his viol was both lyric and percussive. This often militaristic music included titles like "A Souldiers March" and "Whope doe me no harme." I cannot imagine any viol player ever surpassing such a virtuoso display melded to musicality.

The same remark could apply to what followed. Xavier Diaz-Latorre treated us to two works by Gaspar Sanz (late 17th century): his "Jacaras" and "Canarios." The small baroque guitar filled Town Hall with glorious and incredibly varied sounds. Rhythms of great complexity and speed wowed our ears, as the soloists fingers flew over the strings with apparent ease. Savall may have been the headline "star" of this show, but his colleagues were no less impressive.

Lest one think that so-called "Early Music" is kinda dainty stuff, lacking emotional impact, consider that the Marin Marais (1656-1728) works that preceded intermission began with gut-wrenching sorrow and traveled through numerous other powerful emotions on the way to a rousing finish. This early music trio of players sent us off to intermission feeling that the concert was going way too fast!

The three sets that filled the second half included parts of one of J.S. Bach's 'English Suites" for harpsichord. Pierre Hantai dazzled with the clarity and articulation of this complex compositional style, so that none of it ever sounded routine or repetitive. All three men played works by Mr. de Sainte-Colombe le fils, Mr. de Sainte-Colombe le pere, Bach, Antoine Forgueray, and Jean Baptiste Forgueray. They ended the printed program with a set of variations on the famous "Folias" by Antonio Martin y Coll from the early 18th century.

Quoting from the NY Times: "The term 'early-music superstar' is surely an oxymoron. But in the most understated of repertory, on the most subdued of instruments, and in the most self-effacing way, Jordi Savall comes close to being one." He and his colleagues made one of the most entertaining and gracious evenings I've experienced in quite a while.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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