Music review: Jordi Savall ensemble revives exuberance of old Mexico

By Joe Banno
Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Early-music legend Jordi Savall's contribution to the Kennedy Center's "Celebrate Mexico 2010" festival -- a concert titled "From the Old Spain to the New World" and performed at the Eisenhower Theater on Monday evening -- was a rigorously researched program of seldom-heard gems. Playing his accustomed viol with virtuosic panache, Savall led an eclectic ensemble of 18 musicians in a mix of dances and vocal works that evoked the multicultural musical environment of Spanish-colonial Mexico during the Renaissance and baroque periods.

Savall and his longtime artistic and life partner, Montserrat Figueras (whose evocative folk-classical soprano is a drier and more approximate, though no less evocative, instrument after 4 1/2 decades of singing), were joined by the period-instrument ensemble Hesperion XXI; vocalists devoted to the music of Golden Age Spain, La Capella Reial de Catalunya (both groups founded by Savall and Figueras); and a crossover ensemble devoted to traditional folk and Native American music and imported classical music, Tembembe Ensamble Continuo (which included the fine dancer Donaji Esparza).

There was a dizzying array of bowed, plucked, beaten and shaken instruments and an ear-teasing mix of classically trained and folk-based vocal styles (the lustily exuberant singers Ada Coronel, Zenen Zeferino and Enrique Barona giving the greatest pleasure). The musicians moved seamlessly from madrigal-like, multi-part consort pieces to jauntily fiddled and strummed tunes that recalled modern Mexican folk and mariachi music. Only the decision to use slickly mixed amplification sounded an anachronistic note.

Banno is a freelance writer.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company