Jordi Savall & Andrew Lawrence-KingLeft – Jordi Savall. Photo – David-Ignaszewski

Melbourne’s professional musicians and early music connoisseurs flocked to the Melbourne Recital Centre to hear live viola da gamba music virtuoso and early music maestro Jordi Savall on 14 March. The concert is part of the Great Performers Series 2013 and presented also renowned harpist Andrew Lawrence-King, on this occasion using the instrument of Australian harpist Marshall McGuire.

Huge applause welcomed the artists on the stage of the packed Elisabeth Murdoch Hall in recognition of their artistry. The program contained pieces from the golden age of the viola da gamba written in Spain, England, Denmark and France by well-known composers such as Diego Ortiz, Tobias Hume, John Dowland, Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe, father and son, Marin Marais and J. S. Bach, amongst others. The music transported the listener to Spanish lands, English drawing rooms, the French court, and finally, during the encore, even to the heart of the Celts with repertoire featured at WOMADelaide and in two new CDs titled The Celtic Viol.

What can be said about the playing and the presence of masters? One needs to be there to experience it. Can I describe the intricacy of their technique or the imaginative phrasing of their melodic lines, their ensemble playing and dynamics nuances, the careful selection of pieces or the research that has gone into bringing them to live from old manuscripts? The feeling was that of ecstasy, reverence and wonderment, coupled with one of the best sonic experiences one could ever have.

Here I have to say that I had to stretch my ear drums and correct my hearing from the excessive decibels, having just come from the open space of the WOMADelaide Festival. I am sure that many audience members had to readjust from modern every-day listening to music of MP3 quality and loud urban noises to a different sonic environment. The purity of acoustics of the beautifully crafted Elisabeth Murdoch Hall carried unadorned the entire range of tones. The listeners had to ‘lean in’ to delight in the enormous breadth and depth of tones of the harp and the viol which tend to be within the soft spectrum of the palette. The musicians commented on how relieved they were to be playing in such perfect conditions.

The audience was most smitten by the rendition of Marin Marais’ Les voix humanines, forgetting to clap for a while, and most appreciative of the vibrant rhythms of the first encore showcasing music from the Celtic Viol when Jordi Savall played treble viol, Andrew Lawrence- King the psaltery and Frank McGuire the traditional tunable Bodhran. Andrew Lawrence-King has a lively stage presence. He demonstrated the beauty of solo harp music and even recited a poem with improvised gesture in honour of the French ballet master R. A. Feuillet.

The first set of the second half was devoted to the memory of the late Montserrat Figueras – the prodigious early music soprano and muse of Jordi Savall. The pieces were those featured on the soundtrack of A. Corneau’s film Tout les matins du monde (1991) that launched Savall’s career internationally and brought viola da gamba music to the twentieth century home entertainment system. The gratification of hearing these well-known pieces live was immense but one had to forgo the expectation created by listening to the mastered recordings.

Savall’s latest CD’s were on sale in the foyer. They look more like books or beautiful artefacts and carry names that proclaim piece and good will to the world. A long cue gathered to meet him after the concert. He patiently spoke to each one of his fans and when asked whether he was tired, he said that on the contrary, the music energised him. 

Melbourne Recital Centre presents
Jordi Savall & Andrew Lawrence-King

Venue: Melbourne Recital Centre, Elisabeth Murdoch Hall
Date: Thursday 14 March 2013
Bookings: 9699 3333

Written by Daniela Kaleva, University of South Australia

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