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CD Review

Music for the Spanish Kings

Hespèrion XX/Jordi Savall
Virgin Veritas 561875-2 2CDs
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Like the Renaissance itself, Music for the Spanish Kings begins with a strutting fanfare and ends with a melancholic sigh. Attaining his usual high standards, Jordi Savall has fashioned a poignant and varied musical portrait of the century encompassing the reigns of three Spanish kings: Alphonso I (1442-58), Ferdinand I (1458-94), and Charles V (1516-56).

Montserrat Figueras' rich mezzo-soprano voice carries over half the pieces on the first disc. Her stunning vibrato imparts a troubadour's sadness to the cancions. Her impeccable rhythms carry dance tunes like "Cingari siamo venit's giocare." Her style is so confident, so persuasive she could induce some listeners into fits of swift dancing, uncontrollable foot tapping, or perhaps persistent dreams of whirling campesinos in colorful capes.

As in his many previous CDs, Savall displays unflagging taste in both his composer selections – he elicits the best from over a dozen obscure composers – and in his arrangements. He orchestrates Adrain Willaert's "Vecchie letrose" with snappy percussion, brisk flute, guitar, and Figueras' vivacious voice So infectious it seems to end prematurely, leaving the listener craving more. Perhaps that was Savall's intention, for there is more: the entire second disc. Antonio de Cabezón (1510-66) composed all of these instrumental pieces, but only on keyboard. It was Savall's redoubtable task to decide which ones would be brass ensembles and which would be sweet essays on his charmed viol. Some of Cabezón's pieces for the viol undulate seductively like those of Sainte Colombe, who composed more than a century later. Others coax complex variations (diferencias) from the musicians, like the chivalric "Diferencias sobre 'La dama le demanda," play slowly like well-executed foreplay. I wish the CD producers had provided text for the songs, or even instrument listings. But the collection thrives well without them. Joyous and dark, mysterious and brazen, each piece is a panoply of subtle mood shifts.

Copyright © 2001, Peter Bates