Review by LC August 2, 2004 (17 of 17 found this review helpful)
|Review: Stereo SACD
Audio System: Sony ES, Placette, Rogue, Meadowlark, Cardas (see User Details)
This SACD features 55 minutes of the same tune. And it is one of the last recordings I would ever part with. The "Folia" - Portuguese for "wild amusement" or "insanity" - is the most famous of several anonymous medieval dances from the Iberian Peninsula. The Folia itself is a repeated bass line which serves as the ground for ornamented melodies, variations and improvisations, played here by the Catalan viol master Jordi Savall on priceless original instruments- mid-16th century Italian soprano and bass violas da gamba and a late-17th century English bass viol. As always, he is accompanied by the finest musicians, playing a wonderful variety of early instruments, including viheula, harp, claviorganum and castanets.
The first section of La Folia includes some of the earliest Folia compositions that have survived, from 1490-1557, and opens with a dazzling performance of an anonymous work that has all seven musicians playing. Each of the ensuing miniatures features different forms of composition and different combinations of instruments. The three later and larger compositions, by Spanish (Martín y Coll), Italian (Corelli) and French (Marais) composers, testify to the fame of the Folia in Baroque Europe. What unites them with earlier compositions, though, is not just the common bass line, but the role of improvisation in composition (and performance). As Savall writes in his notes, "improvisation blossomed into a masterpiece" in each of these compositions. "The aim of this recording is therefore to bear witness to an art which contributed so much to the evolution of the language of instrumental music."
Jordi Savall is a musical genius, one of the truly great musicians alive today. Coming from him, none of this music sounds "played"- it sounds discovered, right here and now. The sense of spontaneity achieved in both the composition and performance is virtually incomparable. One never - not for one second - wearies of hearing the "same" music. Every variation is an adventure. A single fast-slow couplet can take the listener in seconds from catching his breath to fighting back tears, as Savall alternates between furious, almost shockingly physical, playing and rapturous tones that seem possible only from instruments that the composers themselves might have held and that are now in the hands of a man filled with the musical spirit of his homeland. Absolute joy.
Alia Vox CDs consistently achieve some of the finest sonics that can be heard today, and their SACDs are even better. All the recordings so far have been 24/96 transferred to DSD by Musica Numeris, but I challenge anyone who thinks he can hear the intrinsic sonic flavour of PCM to listen to this SACD and complain. As is evident from the recordings themselves, and from a conversation I was honoured to have with Savall when he visited my Early Music society, recording location and microphone placement are chosen with great care. Spatial information and instrument separation is exceptionally well captured, particularly in sonically dense tracks such as the Anonymous and Martín y Coll Folias. The overall sound is warm, rich and vivid.
Highest possible recommendation, even allowing for the reviewer's near-worship of Savall; a reference quality recording.
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