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GRAMOPHONE (09/1996)
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Alia Vox
AVSA 9859

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Reviewer: Julie Anne Sadie

It would have been surprising if Hespèrion XX had not recorded the complete Purcell Fantasias to mark the recent tercentenary. Likewise Fretwork , whose version was singled out as Recording of the month when I reviewed it in the May 1995 issue. Fans of the English consort repertory will want to own both these recordings. Why? Because the Hespèrion recording explores the innermost reaches of this repertory while the Fretwork performance remains, at least for me, the classic. What do I mean? For a long while , in public performances as well as on recordings, Jordi Savall and his group - always somewhat idiosyncratic have been moving towards an ever more meditative style of interpretation. With this recording, in collaboration with Wieland Kuijken, they have achieved a state of abstraction seldom experienced in music.

It almost goes without saying that their playing is always extremely beautiful: the music demands it. But any need to be rhetorical, to lean on a dissonance or pronounce a cadence, has been outgrown and discarded. The scale within which these features and more (most notably the rhythmic life of the music) are articulated - and they are - is so minimal, so subtle and yet ultimately so compelling, that from the first track the listener is transported into a rarefied aural dimension usually reserved for single movements or even phrases. Although I haven 't had a chance to compare individual timings between the recordings, the impression of this version is that few would ever dare to playas slowly; the slow section of the Fourth Fantasia, Z738 for example, is nearly (but not quite) brought to a standstill. And yet the music more than survives it. I t is illuminated afresh by these performances.

There will always be those who think of the consort repertory as so much wallpaper, but even they, I feel certain, will rise to the challenge posed to listeners by this recording. Don't miss it.

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