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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.
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.