Concert Review: Savall & Hespèrion XXI

Jordi Savall and Hespèrion XXI

Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House,

28 February, 2023.

The performance by living legend Jordi Savall and his early music ensemble Hespèrion XXI in the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House not only entertained and transfixed the auience, it was a masterclass in early instrumental performance and a rare opportunity to hear an expert ensemble of early instuments playing this specialist repertoire.

Savall led his ensemble from the treble viol with meticulous grace and discretion. Comprising Philippe Pierlot playing treble and bass viols, Lixsania Fernandez playing tenor viol, Juan Manuel Quintana and Lorenz Duftschmid on bass viols, Xavier Puertas on violone, Enrike Solinis on theorbo and guitar and David Mayoral on percussion, the ensemble wove its way through songs, dances and other charming pieces spanning two centuries from the early 1500s. There was melody and polyphony, Orientalist fantasias and complex counterpoint in the music by a range of composers from Western Europe who included Parsons, Dowland, Ferrabosco, Charpentier, Purcell and Bach. 

The brilliant soundscape created by this small orchestra of period instruments was distinctive and well balanced with good dynamic contrasts. The counterpoint was well articulated and early concerns that a venue of concert hall size would muddy the acoustic were dispelled with even the softest of plucked notes from the theorbor clearly audible in the newly re-engineered Concert Hall.

Highlights included the Purcell’s Fantasia upon one note, and the crowning glory, J S Bach’s Contrapunctus 1 followed by the Contrapunctus 9 alla duodecima. There were moments of levity as percussionist David Mayoral emulated the sound of horse’s hoves in one of the three encores generously performed by the ensemble. 

Check out the images of the concert below. (Four images. Credit Mikki Gomez).

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