Proms Chamber Music 5: Jordi Savall - Cadogan Hall, 18 August 2008
Ortiz Passamezzo antico; Folia; Ruggiero Romanesca; Passamezzo moderno
Hume A Souldiers March; Harke, harke; A Souldiers Resolution
Marais Pièces de viole, 3è livre - Prélude; Muzettes I/II; La sautillante
Sanz Jácaras; Canarios
Marais Couplets des Folies d'espagne
What a privilege to spend an hour in the company of the great master of the viola da gamba, Jordi Savall, and how astonishing to discover that after a near-fifty year career he is only now making his Proms debut.
His technical facility is so ingrained that his instrument seems almost like another limb. But more than that, he has the rare gift of reinventing the music each time he plays it. And that's harder than it seems. The harmonic conventions of his chosen 16-18th century repertoire generate a largely predictable melodic line. But what Savall does is to vary timbre and colour and articulation to such an extent that you truly don't know what's coming next.
So many early music perfomances I've suffered are simply a production line of notes, on a lucky day perked up by a bit of generic sprightliness. Savall on the other hand has technique, scholarship and musicality, his conception encompasses everything from the big picture to the tiniest brushstrokes, and he brings the music completely alive.
With the sympathetic collaboration of Rolf Lislevand on theorbo and guitar (a tiny, twangy relative of the ukulele), he showcased the many guises of the viola da gamba - the near-percussive effects of short, choppy bowing and spiccato in the earlier Spanish work, the longer-bowed, legato styles of the later Marin Marais selections, the novel drum and call effects in Hume's military-inspired pieces.
That we can listen to the Ortiz and Hume works at all is also down to Savall's efforts - he rescued them from dusty library shelves for what was probably their first airing in hundreds of years.
What a tragedy his busy calendar doesn't bring him to London more often.