Excellent Early Music Now from the Savalls
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.
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.