Jordi Savall provides moving star turn at Tropical Baroque Festival

By Lawrence Budmen

Jordi Savall performed Monday night at First United Methodist Church in Coral Gables.

The Miami Bach Society’s annual Tropical Baroque Music Festival presented early music superstar Jordi Savall and his ensemble Hesperion XXI Monday night at First United Methodist Church of Coral Gables. Joined by Tembembe Ensamble Continuo, a three-member group from Mexico, Savall’s program celebrated the interaction of indigenous folk music of Latin America with the early European Baroque tradition.

Savall is the master of the viola da gamba, the forerunner of the modern cello. A tireless researcher and archivist of Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque music, Savall has formed several specialty ensembles and his own record label to showcase his musicological  work. His current program presents a rare synthesis of ancient and New World musical genres. Still, the concert’s most memorable moment came when Savall was alone on stage, performing a solo tribute to his late wife and artistic partner Montserrat Figueras who passed away last fall.

In Savall’s hands, the viola da gamba produces a rich, tangy sound. The precision, lightness, style and verve of Fantaisie en Rondeau preceded the dark emotional resonance of Les Pleurs by M. de Sainte-Colombe, which was deeply felt and communicated with surprising emotional fervor, belying the stereotype of Baroque music as cold and dispassionate. Summoning gravity and majesty to a Bouree by J.S. Bach, Savall brought an elegant ray of musical light to the sorrow of loss, appending a deftly plucked improvisation.

The loss of Figueras’ ethereal light soprano and generous spirit in the Hesperion ensemble is deeply felt. At some point, Savall should consider bringing a gifted soprano into the group to provide vocal contrast.

His current collaboration with the all-male Mexican ensemble is certainly interesting.  In many ways the Tembembe musicians seem like a Baroque mariachi band, a crossover group that mixes cultures and centuries. A romance by Diego Ortiz sounded more like 1950s Latin pop than a cross-cultural fusion. With Savall joining the group with his smaller, viola sized gamba, an improvisation on the anonymous tune Rodrigo Martinez resembled Greensleeves and the arrangement of Ortiz’s Passamezzo moderno was not far removed from La Bamba.

Savall’s Hesperion players come from the top ranks of the early music movement. Baroque harpist Andrew Lawrence-King is himself a period instrument star, renowned for his Harp Consort players. Combined with the delicate guitar of Xavier Diaz-Latorre and Savall, Lawrence-King’s shining, light sound immediately conjured up Baroque with a Latin beat in the opening Folias Antiguas. In the program’s second half, Lawrence-King’s agility and verve produced a more contemporary Latin tinged sound with a brilliant solo turn in a dance he termed As Casanova Approaches, accompanied by Marc Clos’ sprightly castanets. Xavier Puertas’ violone (Baroque bass) insinuated a rhythmic beat with the dexterity of a stellar jazzman.

Concluding a set of improvisations and variations on traditional Latin dance melodies, Savall turned Antonio Valente’s Jarocho into an infectious round dance, his gamba improvisations ever wilder, more inventive and faster with each reiteration, the final flourish bringing the packed house to its feet.

The Tropical Baroque Music Festival continues 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables with  Asteria featuring soprano Sylvia Rhyne and tenor Eric Redlinger. 305-669-1376


Posted in Performances

Leave a Comment

Tue Mar 6, 2012
at 11:06 am
No Comments