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Fanfare Magazine: 38:5 (05-06/2015) 
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Reviewer: Bertil van Boer
 

None of the works on this disc are strangers to the world of recording, all being rather iconic in so far as the music for each composer is concerned. What is different here is that they are part of a two-disc set that combines the live sound of the compact disc with the multimedia imagery of the DVD. All but one of the works was done in 2013 at the concerts of the Chapelle Royale at Versailles or the Fontfroide Festival; the Vivaldi Double Concerto was recorded in 2003 and added to this collection, probably to fill out the program. The impetus for this set was conductor Jordi Savall’s participation in the Third Academy of Professional Training for Musical Research and Performance, a program organized in Barcelona to train younger musicians in Baroque performance practice. The culmination was the live recording at Versailles, for which this set serves as an admirable documentation.

 

As noted, there is ample competition in terms of the music itself, but here one finds a virile and aggressive performance under Savall’s direction. This lends these oft-recorded works a special power and presence. For example, the unison of the Bach Harpsichord Concerto’s second movement, with its mysterious, often chromatic and meandering ritornello offset by a very lyrical solo part, is played with considerable force, making it sound a bit sinister. This is an exciting effect that diffuses the energy of the perpetual motion opening movement and sets up the rapid twists of the finale. In Vivaldi’s Magnificat, the opening chorus has a steady and powerful gait that serves to introduce the vivacious “Et exultavit” with the wandering soprano and alto lines, adding choral punctuation to reinforce the flowing solo voices. The interjections of “Fecit potentiam,” lasting only a few seconds, are like angry postulations that end with a stark unison that gives the following “Deposuit” a powerful decisiveness. The lilting dual soprano “Essurientes” makes a perfect foil. For the iconic Bach Magnificat, the richness of the composer’s contrasting brass and woodwinds above the sinuously moving strings brings a vibrant energy that is continued in the full sound of the chorus. In the “Exultavit,” the text “humilitatem” is outlined by a smooth and sentimental oboe that blends nicely with the soprano in an intertwining duet that is most poignant. The continuo aria “Quia fecit mihi magna” also benefits from the decisive continuo playing, which makes bass Stephan McLeod’s rich bass envelope one in rich sonority as he easily navigates the turning vocal line. The “Essurientes” is a pastoral duet for the traversi in which the countertenor voice enters as a third partner, each line exchanging the melody smoothly. Everything on this disc is infused with a vibrant energy that makes this music come alive.

For live performances, the recording has considerable depth. Savall’s tempos are lively but not too extreme. His ensemble, both choral and instrumental, blends well together and I can find no deviations in terms of intonation or blend. Soprano Hanna Bayodi-Hirt does hold back initially, but she soon hits her stride so that the solos and duets are quite magical. In short, despite the fact that there are numerous exemplars out there of all of this music, this disc can hold its own among the best. I find, however, that the DVD is less interesting, although certainly instructive to see how well controlled Savall keeps his wonderfully cohesive ensemble. A caveat, however, is that my example was coded for PAL instead of NTSC, meaning that, while my computer program and DVD player could access it, not all North American players can unless they are multi-nationally capable. My opinion at the last is that one should get this for several reasons, not least of which are the fine performances. First, it shows that these programs are turning out bright and talented new musicians. Second, it demonstrates Savall’s interpretive skills in the works of two iconic Baroque composers. And finally, it is simple an excellent disc that, even if one can’t play the DVD, will certainly be known for the vibrant energy of the performances.
 


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