It’s a family affair…
By Roy Gregory
Record Labels are a bit like audio companies: the major producers get most of the attention, even if it’s the fringe players that often deliver the most interesting product. With that in mind, we have instituted an occasional series to draw attention to lesser-known or over-looked record labels that produce consistently interesting and often excellent sounding recordings. But let’s be clear – the emphasis here is firmly on the music first. Superb sound is, happily, often a partnering condition, but a great performance is what really matters. Not all recordings (or artists) are created equal, even within a single catalogue, but some fields are more fertile than others. The labels we feature are just that – promising collections worthy of your attention.
There are plenty of one-band record labels – just not many that offer over 140 individual recordings! Alia Vox exists to record and distribute the work of the musical whirlwind that is Jordi Savall, the man who ‘re-invented’ (or at least rediscovered) the Viola Da Gamba, who scored the international hit movie Tous Les Matins Du Monde, who formed the renaissance music group Hespèrion XX (that later transmogrified, with the change of millennium, to Hespèrion XXI), the original instruments orchestra Le Concert Des Nations, La Capella Reial De Catalunya and along the way married soprano Montserrat Figueras and had two children, Ferran (singer and multi-instrumentalist) and Arianna (mezzo-soprano and harpist, who divides her time between early, baroque and modern music).
La famille Savall is as talented as it is prolific, recording with Alia Vox and other labels. But it is not just the astonishing number of projects with which Jordi Savall concerns himself, or in which he cooperates with other members of his family, that stands apart. What really impresses is the innate musical qualities and understanding he brings to an astonishingly wide range of repertoire. With a catalogue that features music stretching from the 11th Century to Scubert (via Vivaldi, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven), originating from Britain, Europe, the Mediterranean coastal lands (including Africa) the Near, Middle and Far East, the sheer breadth of material is astonishing, with many of the discs containing extensive notes in beautifully presented booklets. Savall’s small-orchestra, original instruments Beethoven cycle was a surprise hit, remarkable for the concentrated energy and sheer joie de vivre in the performances, the penetrating musical insights and humour in the direction. Here was a Fifth performed with 50 players and a Ninth with 61! Even better, many of the more recent recordings are issued as hybrid CD/SACD discs and, despite the beautiful packaging and extensive booklets, prices are distinctly reasonable. The Beethoven cycle mentioned above comes in two sets, each of three discs and you will find them priced at around €/$25-30 each.
If there’s a musical idiom (short of pop) that escapes Savall’s grasp, I’ve yet to discover it, while the quality and commitment in the performances and recordings is remarkable. The two examples I’ve chosen to highlight typify those qualities but also embrace both ends of the scale, the imagination and sheer intimacy that Savall brings to small ensemble music, the surprising, engaging and enlightening perspective he offers on larger and more familiar works.