Music Review

Savall’s seven re-creates golden age of consort viol

Jordi Savall’s ensemble played music from Europe dating from 1500 to 1700.
David Ignaszewski
Jordi Savall’s ensemble played music from Europe dating from 1500 to 1700.

Catalan viol virtuoso Jordi Savall and his various ensembles — Hespèrion XXI, Le Concert des Nations, La Capella Reial de Catalunya — have such an extensive repertoire, from the 10th century to the 20th, and ranging from Latin America through Europe and into China and Japan, that they could perform in Boston every week for a year and not repeat a program. What Savall brought to Jordan Hall Friday was a modest version of Hespèrion XXI: a viol consort of five (including local musician Carol Lewis on bass viol) plus vihuela, theorbo, and percussion. But the sound the seven players produced was so rich and varied that it seemed an entire orchestra was onstage.

The program was also varied: “Musical Europe: The Golden Age of Consort Viol Music (1500–1700),” with sets from Renaissance Italy, Elizabethan England, Spain, Louis XIII’s France, and Germany. The viol, which probably descended from the guitar-like vihuela, emerged in the 15th century as a consort instrument in different sizes. At Jordan Hall, Savall (treble), Sergi Casademunt (tenor), Philippe Pierlot (alto and bass), Lewis (bass), and Xavier Puertas (vio-lone) played like a string quintet, a family of musicians espousing the principles of Renaissance humanism, with Xavier Díaz-Latorre adding texture on vihuela and theorbo and David Mayoral kicking the proceedings along on tambourine and drums.

Most of the six sets (the last was called “European Baroque Music”) started with a pavane or other slow dance and then a faster galliard. Plucked in the bass viols and the violone and the vihuela, the pavane from Italy, by Innocentio Alberti, was somber, almost ghostly, a kind of funeral march, the body released but also celebrated. The English set began with the long, searing sighs of a John Dowland pavane, “Lachrimae Antiquae”; the Spanish one opened with Diego Ortiz’s “La Spagna,” on which Savall soloed over Mayoral’s big drumbeat. The Spanish set continued with an unusual pavane in triple time from Antonio de Cabezón and then Luys de Milán’s “Fantasia VIII,” on which the bass viols and the violone were pure velvet. Savall improvised enticingly on the closing “Canarios,” as he had on the “Folias” that ended the Italian section.


The second half began with a typically French pavane, double-dotted, less solemn, and not so unlike the galliard that followed. On Samuel Scheidt’s “Galliard Battaglia à 5,” Savall did battle against the other four viols; during the improvisations on the anonymous “El jarabe loco” that closed the program, Casademunt and Pierlot strummed their viols as if they were guitars. “European Baroque Music” brought a ballet called “Les Américains” (with a folky tune), the luscious sarabande “A l’impero d’Amore” from Luigi Rossi’s opera “Orfeo,” and the lightly tripping “A Fairies Dances” from Henry Purcell’s semi-opera “The Fairy Queen.” The two encores were William Brade’s “Ein schottischer Tanz” and the familiar (to Savall fans) anonymous “Bourrée d’avignonez.” It wasn’t enough, but a Savall ensemble could play all night and it wouldn’t be enough.

Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at