Jordi Savall - Wigmore Hall, 8 May 2009
Abel Prelude Bach Allemande Schenk Aria Burlesca Sainte-Colombe Le Fils Fantaisie en Rondeau; Prélude in E minor for viola da gamba Sainte-Colombe Les Pleurs Bach Bourreé II Demachy Prelude en Re M Marais Les Voix Humaines, 2 Musettes Hume A Souldiers March, Captaine Humes Galliard, Hark! Hark! from ‘Musicall Humors’ & A Souldiers Resolution from ‘Musicall Humors’ Ferrabosco Coranto Ford Why Not Here Playford La Cloche Anon The Bag-Pipes Tuning Encores - Marais Musette in G, Trad/Savall variations on a Breton song
The title of Jordi Savall's Wigmore Hall recital was Les Voix Humaines - not just the name of a work by viola da gamba godfather Marin Marais, but also a perfect description for the peculiarly human quality of the incredible range of sounds Savall can produce from his instrument. Sighs, moans, weeping, whispering, even laughter were magicked out of his 7 strings with a staggering range of bowed and plucked techniques. It's no coincidence that the few parts Bach wrote specifically for the viol are those where deep expressiveness is required. I was particularly fascinated by its harmonic capabilities - big chords and long sustained notes.
Most viol music isn't notated in much detail, so Savall has licence to work out what composers might have expected and what sounds best. An all-too-short pre-concert interview unfortunately touched on very little about playing specifics, despite Savall's evident keenness to demonstrate technique, as the interviewer (the Telegraph's Michael White) was more interested in arguing about why the instrument died out. An opportunity missed.
The programme was split into two harmonious halves - mostly French for the first, all-English for the second, contrasting soul-searching introspection and virtuoso playfulness. Saint-Colombe's mournful Pleurs really did drop like tears. A Bach Bourreé for cello sounded gravely apocalyptic beneath Savall's fingers. The strange, slow harmonies of Marais searched for hidden truths.
The mood lightened with Captain Tobias Hume's ingenious evocations of trumpet, drum and march. Savall seems to play these at every British recital, and I never tire of their inventiveness and humour. He deftly switched to lyra tuning, enabling some complex open-string work, for Ferrabosco's Coranto. Another tuning adjustment for Playford's La Cloche allowed a rapid left-hand pizzicato response to chime-like bowed phrases. It wasn't too hard to imagine those 17th century gentleman viol whizzes wowing the ladies of an evening with their astounding skills.
He finished with the earliest work on the programme, 16th century arrangements of bagpipe tunes. Here he crossed a couple of central strings for an open octave drone effect.
Only two encores were forthcoming - Savall clearly follows the old maxim of leaving 'em wanting more.