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Jordi Savall - viola da gamba

Wigmore Hall, 8 May 2009


Abel Prelude

Bach Allemande; Bouree II

Schenk Aria Burlesca

Sainte-Colombe Le Fils Fantaisie en Rondeau; Prélude in E minor for viola da gamba; Les Pleurs

Demachy Prelude en Re M

Marais Les Voix Humaines

Hume A Souldiers March, Captaine Humes Galliard, Hark! Hark! from ‘Musicall Humors’ & A Souldiers Resolution from ‘Musicall Humors’;

Ferrabosco Coranto

Ford Why Not Here

Playford La Cloche

Anon The Bag-Pipes Tuning


The viola da gamba made its appearance in Europe in the second half of the 15th century quickly establishing a central place in Renaissance and Baroque ensembles.  As a solo instrument it was popular with professional and amateur musicians alike and, to quote Ian Woodfield writing in Grove’s Dictionary of Music “continued popular in England long after it had been superseded by the violin on the Continent”.


On the basis of the packed audience in the Wigmore Hall this enthusiasm is as strong as ever.    The instrument maybe an antique but it is capable of producing an incredible range of sound and there is no one better able to show it off than Jordi Savall. 


Savall has devoted more than thirty years to the study of the instrument, unearthing neglected repertoire, researching the tutorials of the period and re-learning lost techniques.   His enthusiasm is infectious, and as the evening progressed, he interrupted his recital more and more frequently to comment on various aspects of the music.


The first half of his programme was devoted to what must be considered “core repertoire” for this instrument.  Works from the French high baroque period contrasted by Italianate pieces from Bach, Abel and Schenck.  All charming and elegant works, vividly evocative of the period.


But the meat of the evening was still to come with the second part devoted to music of the British Isles; highly inventive, with appropriate variety in the techniques required.   Many of the original protagonists of the viol would have been equally at home with the lute or theorbo and thus just as happy to abandon their bows and pluck the strings. 


Hume’s pieces demand a marching tempo drummed with the back of the bow and in the case of Playford’s La cloche the strings are plucked with the left hand at the top whilst being bowed with the right.   In the final group the instrument imitates bag-pipes calling for a major adjustment and re-tuning of the strings. 


For once I wished that my press seat had been closer to the front to give me a better view of these instrumental acrobatics, but the sound was spectacular and certainly it all made for a most interesting and thought provoking evening.


Savall’s latest recording The Celtic Viol (Alia Vox AWSA 9865) explores this repertoire further and is highly recommended.


Serena Fenwick