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In excelsis Deo: In the Time of the War of the Spanish Succession - Savall

In excelsis Deo: In the Time of the War of the Spanish Succession - Savall

Alia Vox  AVSA9924 (2 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Vocal


Francesc Valls: Missa Scala Aretina
Joan Cabanilles: Batalla Imperial
Trad. arr. Savall: El cant dels aucells quant arribaren los vaixells (Song of the birds on seeing the approach of the ships [of Archduke Charles]), Els Segadors (The Reapers) - instrumental and vocal versions, Catalunya en altre temps (Catalonia, in days gone by)
Henry Desmarest: Messe à deux choeurs et deux orchestres

La Capella Reial de Catalunya
Le Concert des Nations
Jordi Savall (conductor)


In the context of the War of the Spanish Succession, the duty of any composer was to celebrate not only the greatness of a deity in religious pieces, but also the power of their sponsors. Jordi Savall invites us to relive the creation of two dazzling masterpieces of polychoral music : the Missa Scala Aretina by Francesc Valls (one of the last pieces to make overt reference to Guido of Arezzo’s famous hexachord) and the Mass for 2 Choruses and Orchestras by Henry Desmarest. The surface of the music is immediately engaging: it is a beguiling mixture of old and new, full of incidence, with choir, soloists and parts for strings and trumpet. Jordi Savall and his ensembles pay due homage to these masterpieces.

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Review by John Broggio - December 3, 2017

Another sumptuous feast of music from that most catholic of musicians, Jordi Savall.

This set is a momento of a pair of concerts in the Chapelle Royale de Versailles on 2 & 3 July 2016, where both audience noise and applause are absent. Between the two parts of the concert (completing the first disc) is some material that was recorded earlier. The Batalla Imperial was set down in 1996 and made its first appearance on hi-res media in Ministriles Reales - Jordi Savall; the remaining Catalan songs date from 2014. Both these earlier recordings were made in the Collégiale de Cardona.

The first part of the concert was formed of Francesc Valls' Missa Scala Aretina that dates from 1702 and is written for no fewer than 3 vocal choirs (2 of which have soloists and ripieno), a fourth instrumental "choir" (which also has soloists identified) and the usual continuo. Within the expected structure, the Kyrie is afforded 3 movements, the Gloria 5, the Credo 6 whereas the Sanctus and Agnus Dei are compact enough to have solitary movements. As with many contemporaries, Valls exploits the wide range of timbres that are possible and often deliberately juxtaposes sparse solo lines to imposing martial choruses, which in these performers hands is a quite thrilling effect.

The second part of the concert is devoted to Henry Desmarest's Messe à deux chœurs et deux orchestres from 1704. Even though the vocal forces (only one choir has soloists and ripieno members), the doubling of the orchestra makes up for this and is an unusual balance of vocal & instrumental complexity. In this era, the voice is usually "first amongst equals". Desmarest's music is somewhat less exuberant than Valls and has a distinctly French accent to the instrumentation and musical language. Savall and his wonderful colleagues here deliver a mood of calm pathos that never veers into undue sentimentality. The richness of the orchestration is a joy to the ear and makes for a vivid contrast from the first half of the concert.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the more limited harmonic and contrapuntal language, the "Music from the Time of the Wars between Spain and Catalonia" is highly apposite given recent political events. The plaintive melodies and harmonies are given full expression under Savall's hands and perhaps pack the biggest emotional punch on the disc. As Savall writes, "These are the songs of the memory of a people, music that evokes the lives and aspirations of men and women who, risking their lives and all their possessions, had the courage to defend their culture and their freedom." The heartfelt rendition of this music is made all the more poignant following the recent events in that disputed region of Spain. However, the moving rendition of this music does point to a slightly cool emotional response in the Desmarest.

This set has two different locations recorded at three different times; it would be idle to pretend these sounded identical but the biggest contrast is the change in venue, not the date at which the recordings were made such is the consistently high quality of the engineering. In particular, the way the audience noise is almost completely absent during the performances is commendable, especially as the timbre of all the participants is conveyed well. As we have come to expect, the format of the release is lavish with multiple essays on the music and its context to the time of composition and the texts are also included.

All in all, Savall has bequeathed us yet another ear opening and moving release that all those interested in the era will find involving and enjoyable on repeated listening.

Copyright © 2017 John Broggio and HRAudio.net

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