Labels To Look At: Alia Vox

Ninna Nanna ca. 1500-2002

Montserrat Figueras and members of Hespèrion XXI
Alia Vox CD AV9826 (CD)

This collection of lullabies is a beautiful if unlikely pleasure. Drawn from a mixture of anonymous/traditional sources and composers as diverse as Byrd, Mussorsky , Manual de Falla, Max Reger and Arvo Pärt, the whole is bound together by the crystalline clarity of Figueras’ voice, never more beautiful then when she duets with daughter Arianna. Unsurprisingly, this is a gentle and deeply melodic collection, with small, intimate arrangements. The individual tracks were recorded in venues spread across a pair of Catalan monasteries and the Vienna Musikverein, an approach which typifies Savall’s ‘whatever makes the music work’ approach. And boy does it work. Many of the tracks included here are almost breathtakingly musical, perhaps none more so than ‘Mareta no’m faces plorar’, an anonymous song dating from Alicante in the 1700s. This delicately soaring duet featuring mother and daughter, backed by baroque guitar, viola da gamba and flute, seems almost impossibly delicate, fragile and beautiful. It’s worth the price of admission alone, yet it’s just the cherry on the icing of an astonishingly substantial and satisfying musical cake. This is one sweet treat that actually isn’t fattening – although our institutional guilt tells us that anything this good must be bad for us. Don’t believe it. Just sit back and enjoy…

Mozart – Requiem in D Minor

Redmond (sop), Kielland (mezzo-sop), Lei (ten), Walser (bar)
La Cappelle Nacional De Catalunya
Le Concert Des Nations, Jordi Savall (Dir.)
Alia Vox AVSA9953 (Hybrid SACD)

Mozart’s Requiem is at the heart of the classical repertoire, as familiar as it is oft recorded. For years, my reach-for recording has been the Peter Schreier, Rundfunk Leipzig/Staatskapelle Dresden recording on Philips. I preferred it for its honesty and the lack of starry theatrics on the part of the soloists (so often an issue with ‘big-name’ singers in a choral setting). But it has recently been supplanted by the Savall, a recording that shares so many of the Schreier’s attributes – but builds on them. Savall is typically direct in his musical interpretation, letting the score do the talking – or, in this case, singing. But as is also typical, he employs the bare minimum of musical forces – an orchestra of 27 and a choir of just 21! Yet this performance lacks nothing in terms of scale and power, musical and emotional intensity. Like so many Savall recordings this one is brim full of energy and vitality. The finely drilled performers produce a superb sense of musical concentration, the smaller numbers in the choir giving clarity and precision to lines, one that weaves a subtle fabric while still delivering the jump and impact demanded by this dramatic music. The soloists (especially Rachel Redmond) integrate beautifully with both the choir and each other, creating a holistic quality to the performance that escapes so many offerings. The result is subtle, beautifully textured and deeply emotional, made all the more affecting by its clearly defined, dimensional and airy soundstage. It might be that smaller forces are easier to record, the performance easier to capture, but if so, I for one am not complaining. Put this on wide-bandwidth system and it has a life and presence that sums up exactly what great music (and great audio) is all about.