Ensemble vocal Orthodoxe/Byzantin
La Capella Reial de Catalunya
Le Concert des Nations
Jordi Savall, conductor
Alia Vox, 2018
Venice has been a melting pot of different people and cultures for more than a millennium. Thanks to its flourishing maritime traffics and its political influence, the lagoon city attracted sightseers, merchants and artists from all over the world.
It causes little surprise that its music assimilated many traditions and that it had a distinctive development: in the first centuries of its history, it was the rite of Aquileia (which differed from Gregorian chant) that influenced the sacred music of Venice; then, it became one of the points of reference for music when Willaert, maestro di cappella in St Mark’s, introduced the cori spezzati; finally, the development of opera in the 17th century and especially of its staging reflected the originality of its political status as an oligarchic republic.
Venice was also under the influence of the Byzantine empire, with which the maritime republic had closest ties than any other European city.
Venezia Millenaria: the Programme
Some gems of Venetian music are now collected in Venezia Millenaria (“Millenary Venice”), a recording by Jordi Savall. This is another of his ambitious projects, such as Guerre & Paix, Erasmus van Rotterdam and Les Routes de l’Esclavage, just to mention a few of them.
All the works of Venezia Millenaria are not performed often, even when they have been written by famous composers as Antonio Vivaldi: La Senna festeggiante, the serenata he composed “to Louis XIV’s glory”, is not a popular works. But it is especially when it comes to early pieces of music as Byzantine compositions that we have absolute rarities.
The great thing of Venezia Millenaria is that you can follow the development of Venetian music both musically and historically. Thanks to an exhaustive booklet, each piece of music is associated with an event or to an important date.
Venezia Millenaria: the Performance
To perform so many works, different not only by genre but also by tradition, it is necessary a considerable number of performers. Venezia Millenaria features two choruses, two ensembles and a group of oriental musicians. On the whole, their performance is exquisite and brings variety to the recording. Each piece of music is a shimmering blend of sumptuous colours. Hespérion XXI and Le Concert des Nations play with stylishness, while Savall’s reading is always plenty of light and shade.
The most precious nuances are those of Byzantine pieces as the anonymous Halatzoglou Kratema or of the Armenian song and dance, which bring warmer, oriental nuances in the recording. Also some European tunes share that colour. One of the best examples is the wonderful adaptation of Mozart’s famous Rondo alla Turca, performed by Le Concert des Nations, Hespèrion XXI and the oriental musicians. Replacing the piano, the groups of instruments play in harmonious contrast and answer to each other as in a close dialogue, realizing an flamboyant rendition that is both enthralling and amusing. Overall, this adaptation emphasises more than ever the “Turkish” spirit of Mozart’s Rondo.
The soloists of La Capella Reial de Catalunya embellish with their voices pieces as the madrigal Oíd, oíd, Gabrieli’s Ricercar IV, a Villanesca alla Napolitana and Di queste selve from Vivaldi’s La Senna festeggiante. They sing beautifully and their voices are so smooth and elegant that they are able to create charming atmospheres, as in the madrigal, or to conjure up an idea of joy and exultance, as in La Senna festeggiante. However, it is the Ensemble vocal Orthodoxe/Byzantin that evokes the most suggestive atmospheres with its profound singing, especially when you think of the solemn, robust Alleluia written in the 8th century.