lunes, septiembre 29, 2008

The variegated paths of Renaissance and Baroque music

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, La Capella Reial de Catalunya, a flexible vocal ensemble that has often done choral work in its augmented form. Soprano Montserrat Figueras, Savall´s wife, was taken ill and splendidly replaced by the Argentine Adriana Fernández, who is having a fine career in Europe. The others were all men: countertenor David Sagastume (Basque), tenor Lluís Vilamajó (Catalan), Italian baritone Furio Zanasi, the stunning Venezuelan bass Iván García (with a curious hairdo) and bass Daniele Carnovich (Italian). As you see by the surnames Alkhai (probably Maghrebian) and Yesilcay (Turkish), and by the Italians and Latin-Americans, this is certainly a cosmopolitan ensemble based at Barcelona. By the way, Hespérion comes from Hesperia, an ancient name of the Iberian Peninsula.

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 4", that is, a piece in Negro style for four singers, called "San Sabeya gugurumbé", by that great writer of "ensaladas" (quodlibets of melodies), Mateo Flecha, also author of the so-called "Dindirindin a 4", so-called because of the repetition of that onomatopoeic phrase, "Ande pues nuestro apellido". A Pavane and Galliard by Luis de Milán (here Catalanized as Lluís de Milá) completed the group. Milán started the second group of two with an imaginative "Fantasía VII". Bartomeu Cárceres curiously combines Gascon and Catalan in a dance of French origin, the "branle", called "Tau garçó la durundena". The final group of the First Part combined two Spanish resident composers , Diego Ortiz in two dances, "Romanesca y passamezzo moderno", and Antonio Martín y Coll in "El villano", with two transplanted Spaniards: Juan Pérez Bocanegra wrote down in 1631 an indigenous Quechua piece, the expressive "Hanacpachap cussicuinin", and from Juan García de Zéspedes (Mexico) came an astonishing villancico (Christmas carol) on the guaracha rhythm (!), "Ay que me abraso", written before 1678.

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 5" by the Portuguese Frei Filipe da Madre de Deus: "Antonya Flaciquia Gasipà", which means "Antonia, Francisca, Gaspar". The encore was an improvisation on the only four notes we have of the musicalization of the "Romance del Conde Claros".

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.

Once again, Hespérion XXI gave us much to enjoy.
For Buenos Aires Herald

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