In two successive days the Mozarteum Argentino gave us the return of Hespérion XXI in Ibero-American Renaissance music (at the Coliseo) . Both events were richly rewarding and demonstrative of the immense variety of those periods.
We had earlier visits from the specialist ensemble founded by Jordi Savall; it started as Hespérion XX and as the new century began, was renamed Hespérion XXI. As it came this year, it included four "viole da gamba", led by Savall in the smallest one, the others being Sergi Casademunt, Fahmi Alqhai and the Argentine Juan Manuel Quintana; Xavier Díaz-Latorre and Enrique Solinis in guitar and the "vihuela" (its cousin, so to speak); David Mayoral and Mehmet Yesilcay in assorted percussion; and Adela González-Campa in period castanets. The instrumentalists were complemented by another Savall-led ensemble,
Savall has been responsible with his different groups for a staggering 170 CDs, all of them highly professional in execution and musicologically up-to-date. The particular programme I heard is called "Encounters of musics of fire and air, from Old Iberia to the New World", and is designed in a total of twenty pieces, each part containing successively groups of four, two and four works. They purport to be good samples of musical hybridization ("mestizaje") between Spain and Latin America from the 16th to the 18th century. And viceversa, the influence of Latin American musical idioms on Spanish composers residing in Spain. Mostly this traversal was both instructive and enjoyable.
There was a cunning alternation of vocal/instrumental and purely instrumental pieces, almost all rather short. The first group began with a "Moresca" (Moorish-style) by Pedro Guerrero, followed by a hybridization: "Negrilla a
The second Part started with the "Obertura/Corrente italiana" by the great Catalan Joan Cabanilles, followed by "Todo el mundo en general", an anonymous piece praising the Virgin, "concevida sin pecado original" (period orthography). Then, "Glosas" (variations) on that same work written by Francisco Correa de Arrauxo, and a typical Spanish "Romance", "Desde las torres del alma", by Juan Blas de Castro. Then, from Martín y Coll, the exciting "Danza del hacha", and an anonymous piece, "Seguidillas en eco: De tu vista celoso". The final group began with an improvisation on the dance called "Canarios", with a funny false start by the guitarist, and virtuoso playing by Savall; there followed a piece characterized as "Mestizo e Indio": "Tleycantimo choquiliya", in a mixture of Spanish and Nahuatl (the Aztec language), by the Portuguese Gaspar Fernandes; a fine "Gallarda Napolitana" by Antonio Valente; and an overlong "Negro a
Turning to the interpretation, Savall decides everything and does it admirably, for he is an expert musicologist as well as a first-rate virtuoso. All players are very good, but I would single out the percussion group (what an assortment of castanets and drums!), the principal guitarist and Casademunt. Of the singers I preferred Fernández, García and Zanasi; the others had flaws, such as breaking the vocal line or crooning too much.
The following day they gave a totally different programme with a very long title: "Lights and shadows in the century of Colón: History and poetry in dialogue with the Arab-Andalusian, Jewish and Christian musics of old Hesperia until the discovery of the New World". It would have been fascinating to attend, but I had an important date elsewhere: Festivales Musicales offered J.S.Bach´s "St. John Passion", and that is unmissable.