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Folias Antiguas & Criollas from the Ancient World to the New World

Koerner Hall
03/01/2012 -  
Various works by: Antonio de Cabezón, Juan del Enzina, Santiago de Murcia, Diego Ortiz, M. de Sainte-Colombe (père et fils), J. S. Bach, Juan Garcia de Zéspedes, Antonio Martin y Coll, Francisco Correa de Arrauxo & Antonio Valente
From Hespèrion XX!: Xavier Diaz-Latorre, Andrew Lawrence-King, Xavier Puertas, Marc Clos – Tembembe Ensamble Continuo: Enrique Barona, Ulises Martinez, Leopoldo Novoa
Jordi Savall (director & viola da gamba)

J. Savall (Courtesy of the Royal Conservatory of Music)

After far too long a gap, Jordi Savall has returned to Toronto, bringing with him four other members of his Hespèrion XXI ensemble, plus the three continuo players of the Tembembe Ensamble, a Mexican group that has been delving into the musical heritage of Latin America just as Jordi Savall and his colleagues have been industriously delving into Old World musical heritage.

The title of the program sums up the content: pieces based on popular dance forms composed in Spanish lands were taken to the New World colonies where they intermixed with local traditions.

Only one of the composers listed, Juan Garcia de Zéspedes, was from the Western Hemisphere (specifically Puebla, Mexico). He was represented by a jaunty Christmas song in the form of a guaracha. Two of the anonymous pieces were also of Mexican origin. The single encore was from Peru.

In addition to the ten composers listed above, there were several pieces attributed to Anonymous. There were no less than 25 different pieces performed, eight of them with improvisations devised by the eight players - in fact, the entire concert amounted to a highly-polished jam session, exploring especially endless varieties of rhythm. Each of the dance types performed (folia, pavana, passamezzo antico, passamezzo moderno, bourrée, guaracha, fandango, canario, gallarda, jarabe) is defined by its rhythmic pattern, and many of the pieces performed were improvisations (glosas) by the composers.

The performers all played a number of instruments if you count Mr. Savall’s two viols of contrasting size. There was a variety of unusual percussion instruments, including one that looks like the jawbone of an ass. (Really!) Each section of the performance contained contrasts - from sombre to bouncy to downright eccentric. One small stringed instrument is called the mosquito, for example.

The performance came across just fine as a formal concert in the splendid acoustic of Koerner Hall but I couldn’t help wishing we were in an intimate cabaret setting where sangria and other refrescas could be served. Several of the performers burst into song while playing - not polished classical singing, but the evocative popular style. The two sections that earned toe-tapping audience response were both by Santiago de Murcia. His El Fandanguillo portrayed a dancing duel between a man and a woman - it takes us right into flamenco territory, complete with castanets.

The dauntingly learned and dense program notes were not entirely in synch with the program. Several New World compositions were omitted and replaced with a suite of three pieces subtitled Les Regrets performed solo by Jordi Savall in homage to his wife and partner in music, Montserrat Figueras, who died just three months ago. There were two works by M. de Sainte-Colombe le fils and le père, the latter entitled Les Pleurs. The sequence ended with a bourrée by J. S. Bach (from the Suite No. 4 for Cello) played with melting pizzicato. Savall’s tribute was rendered more moving by its elegant understatement.

All in all, an evening of unique warmth and musical distinction.

Michael Johnson



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