French composer Marin Marais (1656-1728) was remarkably prolific, writing nearly 600 compositions for viola da gamba, as well as many operas. One of his major collections of music for the gamba is Suitte d'un Gôut Etranger, a collection of 33 short works written, according to the composer, "to stretch the skill of those who do not like easy pieces." Jordi Savall, the most acclaimed gamba player of the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries, who is responsible for bringing many of Marais' works to light, plays with extraordinary virtuosity and expressiveness.
Ostinato is an anthology which brings together the most representative works of the art of improvisation and of a musical form based on a unique concept of the basso, which is repeated sequentially throughout the compositions.
Jordi Savall, once more time, shares with us a beautiful program of instrumentals and chorals pieces from the middle age. Alfons X El Sabio Cantigas are the most popular music pieces about this period, but also really majestic. The sound of this album is really magic. A very good choice for a first approach…
Sixteenth-century Spanish composer Francisco Guerrero is featured in a reissued disc of motets for four, five, six, eight and 12 voices, with and without instruments. They come from a handful of collections published between 1555 and 1597 and show Guerrero’s skill in evoking a wide range of moods, joyful, sombre and contemplative in turn. Jordi Savall’s ensemble is well-equipped to project the skilfully wrought structures and expressive allure of the music. Some of the pieces fare better than others in respect of vocal texture and ensemble. Tenors and basses occasionally lack tonal refinement but, at their strongest the performances provide a radiant conspectus of Guerrero’s masterly motets.
"By the end of Middle Ages the monks of Montserrat had assembled a distiguished library. Unfortunately this was largely destroyed in 1811 during the Napoleonic wars. The most precious surviving medieval manuscript in the Scriptorium at Montserrat is undoubtedly the famous Ms. No. 1, known as the Llibre Vermell or Red Book of Montserrat, from the colour of the late 19th century velvet which covers the binding of the codex. The manuscript completed in 1399, originally contained about 172 double pages, or folios, of which 35 have been lost. Included in the Llibre Vermell are ten musical works - possibly more originally - by a number of unknown composers."
The Ensalada (musical salad) is a poetical work which combines lines in different languages, as well as instrumental sonatas. It is rooted in the medieval practice of singing different texts simultaneously, and incorporates well-known romances and madrigalist elements. Generally based on stories from Christ birth, ensaladas a big portrait, a la Janequin, occupying a midway position between art and folk music.
During the final years of his life, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) created the monumental body of music that can be considered his “Testament”, comprising the Musical Offering, the Art of Fugue and the B minor Mass. This latter work is a perfect synthesis of all his skill and flair in the art of composition (and essentially in that of counterpoint), as well as his gift for invention and his extraordinary sense of form, structure and number.
There are more than one dozen recordings of Monteverdi's great masterpiece, the Vespers of 1610, a distinction reserved for very few works and composers from the late 16th and early 17th centuries. With this kind of attention, you'd think that this substantial work for choir, soloists, and instruments would be more easily accessible–but it is in fact a structurally complex and musically intricate compilation of hymns, antiphons, and psalms, concluding with a magnificent setting of the Magnificat. Most recordings can't seem to overcome the strategic and technical problems of presenting such a three-dimensional work on a recording. But this one is different: the music literally comes alive and grabs our attention. If you're in the market for Monteverdi's Vespers, look no further. This is the most dynamic, dramatic version on disc.
If he were so minded, Jordi Savall might hand copies of this CD out to new acquaintances as the musical equivalent of a calling-card. True, he appears here only in the guise of soloist, whereas a more complete portrait would need to include samples of his work as director and conductor; but as an illustration of the range of the viola da gamba, this generously filled disc is exemplary. And although the calling-card might not be handmade, it is the nearest thing to it, since Alia Vox is Savall’s own, newly established label.
Luis de Milan’s instrument was the Spanish vihuela, shaped like a guitar and tuned like a lute, for the existence of which his book El Maestro (1536) is the earliest known evidence, and one by Antonio de Santa Cruz (seventeenth century, undated) the last. When it was born, and when and why it died, remain unclear. El Maestro was both a collection of pieces and a thoughtful tutor book, containing much valuable information on the music of the time and on the manner of its performance; in some fantasias it is indicated which passages are to be played ‘broadly’ and in time, and which are to be delivered more quickly.