La Capella Reial de Catalunya, HESPÈRION XX, Jordi Savall
Alia Vox Heritage vol. 20, AVSA9923 (c) 1993/2008
The Cantiga s have been core repertoire for Jordi Savall and his ensembles over many years, and the present recordings date from 1993 and 2008. This means that the distinctive voice of Savall’s late wife, Montserrat Figueras, features prominently on several of the tracks, adding its unique timbre to proceedings. Savall was one of the first and most successful exponents of an improvisatory approach to this early material, providing extensive renditions of the music to give it time to unfold; this is very much in evidence in these performances. If the sound quality doesn’t have quite the gloss of his more recent recordings, these are beautiful and involving accounts of this haunting music. I still have vivid memories of Savall’s performances of this music in Glasgow Cathedral as part of the late lamented Glasgow Early Music Festival, and these recordings capture something of the magic he has brought to this repertoire over the years. Perhaps most importantly, the CD receives the full Alia Vox treatment, with extensive scholarly essays and lavish illustrations to enhance the listening experience. I have sometimes been critical of Savall’s slightly fanciful approach to early music, but he brings an undeniable religiosity to these Cantigas, adding a suitably metaphysical dimension to our appreciation of them. I think it was in his notes to the Glasgow performances that he wrote about the need for ‘southern voices’ fully to realize the potential of this distinctively Iberian repertoire, and Savall’s Catalunyan singers and instrumentalists certainly add an indefinable something to their presentation here.
D. James Ross