Archive for Astrée

Hesperion Dos Equis Reissues

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on August 26, 2009 by Craig Zeichner
The Sean Connery of Early Music

The Sean Connery of Early Music


Few early music artists have as deep a discography as gambist Jordi Savall and his ensemble. Years ago the group was Hesperion XX, these days it’s Hesperion XXI. Who knows, in a few years it might be Hesperion XXI.1. Jordi and company just keep knocking out recordings. He made a huge number for the Astrée  label and then launched his own Alia Vox label.  One of the ensemble’s older efforts has turned  up on the Ars Musici label.


Bohemian-born Andreas Hammerschmidt’s duties as kantor at the Johnanniskirche in Zittau—he was responsible for all the liturgical music— made him a prolific composer by necessity. Hammerschmidt (1611-1675) is probably best remembered for his sacred works which were inspired by the great Heinrich Schütz. Schütz even thought so highly of Hammerschmidt that he penned a laudatory poem for the preface of an edition of Hammerschmidt’s music. This recording (made in 1986) features Hesperion XX under Jordi Savall’s direction and presents another side of Hammerschmidt with a set of instrumental suites.


The suites on this recording were popular in their day and show a preference for the French forms that were the rage in the 17th century. Two of the suites are scored for viol consort, one for viols and winds and one for winds. This is refined music with fetching melodies and a stately grace. Savall and his consort of viols play beautifully with a marvelously rich, warm tone. The suites for winds feature the cornettist Bruce Dickey and other wind players who would join him in the ensemble Concerto Palatino. The contributions by Dickey and the wind players make for some of the most stirring music on the disc. This is a polite, well-performed recording of some pleasant but not revelatory music. Hammerschmidt’s music is solid but lacks the sweetness of the French music of the period and the pure invention that is animates the instrumental music of his Italian and German peers.  If you are interested in hearing more from Hammerschmidt I would suggest going for the sacred music and the terrific collection of motets performed by Weser Renaissance led by Manfred Cordes on the CPO label.

Buy this

Buy this

I love Savall and his ensemble. His wife, the soprano Montserrat Figueras, is a marvelous singer and one of early music’s greats. That being said, I do find Hesperion performances to occasionally be a bit glossy, just too perfect. At times they remind me of the many sleek recordings Herbert von  Karajan made in the 1980s that were beautiful museum pieces but lacking heart. There is also a bit of superstardom ego at work too. I remember a DVD performance of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo conducted by Savall that featured as many close-ups of the great man as there were of the singers on the stage. There was also a Boston Early Music Festival appearance some years ago where  the ensemble hit the stage wearing facial expressions  that suggested somebody kicked their dog. Apparently Ms. Figueras was unhappy with the air conditioning of the hall.
It looks like Alia Vox is undertaking a major digital push. A heap of Astrée digital only reissues are appearing on the Alia Vox label and are available on eMusic. There are some beautiful things here and if you can sort through eMusic’s execrable butchering of metadata you will find some treasures:  Jordicopia at eMusic
Here’s some gorgeous Dowland from Jordi.