Perth Concert Hall
17 Feb 2018
It is impossible to imagine a more exciting or exquisitely performed concert than that given by Jordi Savall and the merged virtuosi of Hesperion XXI and Tembembe Ensamble Continuo for the Perth Festival.
The programme of tunes, songs and dances from the Spanish-speaking world runs deeper that mere music. It’s a potent reminder that European culture does not reside exclusively north of the Pyrenees, and that the great arc of Spanish culture on both sides of the Atlantic is, at its best and most elevated, uniquely sensual, beautiful and enduring.
Savall’s choices for this concert are remarkable for their antiquity; in the main this is music composed before Bach and Vivaldi – some of it over a century before they were born.
It’s a revelation, in these inspired hands, how influential it’s been across contemporary music and how fresh it sounds to modern ears (it takes no effort to imagine Linda Ronstadt joining the marvellous Ada Coronel and Zeren Zeferino in the ancient, but immediately recognisable, songs that peppered the concert).
The dancer Donaji Esparza was just as marvellous as the singers, her bearing impeccable, her feet, in the zapateado, a flashing percussion.
Savall and his seven instrumentalists were a revelation; their virtuosity and imagination – many of the pieces feature improvisations by the musicians – outstanding, their joy in the music, the great energy they brought to it and the attention they paid each other, infectious.
Savall leads, but does not conduct, and his command of his instruments – a Venetian bass viol of 1553 and a priceless treble viol of 1500 – and his bow was a thing of wonder.
But leadership is shared among the players; sometimes the corps of guitarists, marshalled by the brilliant Xavier Diaz-Latorre, with Enrique Barona and Leopoldo Novoa, propelled the music. Sometimes it was the Spanish Baroque harp (no twee little twinkling here) of Andrew Lawrence-King or the percussion of David Mayoral and Xavi Puertas’s violone, an early form of double bass, in the driver’s seat.
Around us swirl a dazzling array of instruments – Novoa’s marimbol, a proto-marimba plucked by the musician, the intense Ulises Martínez’s violin, even Barona’s quijada de cabello, a horse’s jawbone.
It was thrilling to listen to, and wonderful to watch, this music from four or five centuries ago, freshly minted and as vibrant and compelling as when it was first heard.
During a magnificent performance of Antonio Martín y Coll’s Diferencias Sobre las Folías that could make you want to weep one minute and dance the next, I suddenly thought of the futility of Donald Trump.
Because no crummy wall he conspires to build will be deep enough to hold back those tears, or high enough to trip these dancers.