Excellent Early Music Now from the Savalls

By - Oct 11th, 2011 01:19 am
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Jordi Savall

Viola da gamba legend Jordi Savall and his son, Ferran Savall, opened Early Music Now‘s season Saturday evening. The duo and a capacity crowd at the UWM Zelazo Center proved the best imaginable birthday gifts for EMN founder Thallis Hoyt Drake and a great start to the group’s 25th season.

Throughout the hour-and-a-half program, father and son wove a subtle tapestry of sounds from Celtic, Catalan, Spanish, Mediterranean, and French traditions. The elder Savall gave solid and graceful performances on a cello-sized seven-string bass viol and a smaller, more viola-shaped lira da gamba. He pushed the limits of technical performance practice for both instruments with aplomb, going higher and faster on both instruments than I have ever seen.

Particularly impressive were the set of Scottish dances and rants. One does not usually associate such a soft-spoken and refined instrument as the viola da gamba with toe-tapping Celtic tunes, but Jordi vigorously nailed the Scottish fiddle-style ornaments and drones.

The younger Savall brought fresh inflections of jazz and even Dylan into his singing and theorbo playing. Ferran did not seem to take full advantage of the full palate of sounds offered by the theorbo’s extended bass strings, but his technique and harmonizations fit the character of the pieces.


Ferran Savall

Both musicians seemed equally comfortable in each of the musical traditions they explored. Muzettes by 17th century French composer Marin Marias sat comfortably next to a setting of a traditional Breton song. The musicians gave all the works on the program knowledgeable, skillful, and stylistically convincing performances.

The audience roared to its feet at the concert’s end and persisted in demanding an encore. Their enthusiasm was rewarded by a piece for bass viol by Marin Marias and a free-style improvisation sung by Ferran accompanying himself on theorbo.

Together, father and son affirmed the musical traditions while pushing the boundaries of what it means to perform early music now.


0 thoughts on “Excellent Early Music Now from the Savalls”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Insightful Review, Marianne…thanks for writing it! Jordi is an inspiration! I admit to some reservations about Ferran’s voice…there are lots of more “conventional” virtuosic early music singers out there that are more to my taste. On the other hand, in terms of being “historically informed” (whatever that means these days!)it is entirely possible that Ferren’s voice was closer to what people sounded like when they sang these tunes four and five hundred years ago. They probably sang with the sounds they wanted and didn’t care a fig how the audience would react to it…(probably because there wasn’t an audience in the room!). In other words, Ferran’s carefully studied “untrained” voice was perhaps quite HIP after all…

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