Arts & Events

Jordi Savall and Splendor of the Iberian Baroque

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Sunday February 02, 2020 - 05:00:00 PM

Perennial favorite Jordi Savall returned to Berkeley Saturday, February 1, with La Capella Reial de Catalunya and Hespèrion XXI in a concert of Spanish Baroque music at First Congregational Church. Focussing on the musical and theatrical heritage of Spain’s Siglo de Oro, or Golden Age, which spans from roughly 1556 to 1681, Jordi Savall emphasised the interrelatedness of theatre and music. In the plays of Lope de Vega and Calderón de la Barca, to name only the most prominent playwrights, music was performed which incorporated popular songs and two and four part polyphonic harmony. Composers such as Pedro Guerrero, Manuel Machado, Gaspar Sanz, Juan Blas de Castro, and the Flemish polyphonist Matthieu Rosmarin (who Hispanicized his name to Mateo Romano), may not be household names today, but they were among the leading composers of the Siglo de Oro in Spain. Their music was performed in royal courts, churches, theatres, and the courtyards of aristocratic palaces throughout Spain and Portugal, and even in the Imperial venues in Flanders. 

The instrumental group, Hespèrion XXI is composed of Jordi Savall on treble and bass viol, Lixsania Fernández on tenor viol, Juan Manuel Quintana on bass viol, Xavier Puertas on violone, Xavier Diaz-Latorre on guitar and vihuela, Andrew Lawrence-King on Spanish Baroque harp, and David Mayoral on percussion. The vocal group, La Capella Reial de Catalunya, is composed of Èlia Casanova, soprano; Lixsania Fernández, mezzo-soprano; David Sagastume, countertenor; Victor Sordo, tenor; and Victor Torres, baritone. The musical program generally alternated between instrumental and vocal works. Opening the concert was an instrumental Moresca, a Moorish dance number highlighting the Arab & North African influence on Spanish music. Next came a lively song by Manuel Machado in praise of the coming of Spring. The third piece was an instrumental set of dances by Gaspar Sanz featuring Xavier Diaz-Latorre on guitar. A bit later, Diaz-Latorre performed on vihuela, a stringed instrument shaped like an elongated guitar but tuned like a lute. Throughout the first half of the concert, Jordi Savall performed on treble viol. A highlight of the set before intermission was Jordi Savall playing improvisations to Canarios rhythms. The first half closed with a lively, somewhat raucous song, A la vida bona, which made sarcastic wit at the expense of all sorts of Spanish partygoers. 

After intermission, the set began with a male vocal song in praise of the Virgin Mary set to a text by Lope de Vega, in which the poet laments the mad battles of this world. Then Jordi Savall performed variations on bass viol to a theme of Antonio Martin y Coll, accompanied by David Mayoral on castanets. Later, Jordi Savall returned to the treble viol for the remainder of the program. A highlight of the concert may well have been Jordi Savall’s performance on treble viol in a piece by Francisco Correa de Arauxo. A vocal highlight featured La Capella Reial de Catalunya singing the slow, soft lullaby, Quedito, pasito, by Juan Hidalgo set to a text by Calderón de la Barca. The final piece in this concert was a lively song inviting everyone to dance, though, humorously, it ended with the words, “a Dios las gracias, ay! porque callemos, ay!”/ “and thanks be to God, for now we’ll be quiet!”  

Thankfully, however, the musicians did not remain quiet, for they responded to the tumultuous applause by performing an encore that was announced as emanating from Lima, Peru, thus demonstrating the influence on Spanish music from the New World.