Jordi Savall has re-recorded Beethoven’s symphonies – culture

The world-renowned showpiece of the National Museum of Catalonia in Barcelona is a 900-year-old fresco of Jesus that once adorned the apse of the Romanesque church of Sant Climent in Taüll, located in what is still a difficult-to-reach Pyrenean valley. Jesus is shown as an energetic ruler of the world. Despite the stylization, the slender face appears lively, the eyes are wide awake, and the hair and beard are fashionably styled. It is the timeless image of a doer, a revolutionary and an innovator.

Catalonia, which is still quite rural away from the metropolis of Barcelona, ​​is dotted with Romanesque churches. The most beautiful of them is enthroned on a hill almost 200 kilometers southeast of Taüll, it is the 1000-year-old church of Sant Vicenç in Cardona Castle, which Orson Welles once chose as the setting for his Falstaff film. The slender, lofty building, which is as clear as it is unadorned, striving towards the future, is reminiscent of the Christ of Taüll; both works are austere and bright visions, are festivals of departure. In Sant Vicenç, however, viol player and conductor Jordi Savall has been recording his albums for years, mostly music from the Renaissance, Baroque and Mediterranean regions.

Jordi Savall is also a visionary, a thinker and a revolutionary. He was born in northern Catalonia in 1941 and educated in Barcelona and Basel. Savall is one of the leading figures in historical performance practice and also the greatest master of viola da gamba. Nobody enchants with this unruly instrument like him. But Savall also conquered the choral music not only of the Spanish tradition, he made music again and again with music masters of the Mediterranean world, he celebrated triumphs with his wife, the grandiose singer Montserrat Figueras, who died ten years ago. Little by little he worked his way forward in the repertoire with his ensembles Hesperion and Le Concert des Nations, up to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn and now to the nine symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven. Their recording crowns the life’s work of this 81-year-old musician, who continues to perform intensively, going beyond the epoch-making Beethoven recordings of Nikolaus Harnoncourt and John Eliot Gardiner.

Savall is releasing the symphonies on his own label – along with opulent books

Savall released the Beethoven symphonies on two albums on his record label Alia Vox, which he founded 20 years ago. At a time when the long-established record companies were beginning to falter and were increasingly turning away from the unknown and the new and experimental, focusing instead on the mainstream. Savall, however, successfully went the other way, often presenting his recording projects as opulent books with attached CD, which open up the cultural environment of distant, foreign music in text and images. The Beethoven albums are also such comprehensive cultural histories.

Savall recorded eight of Beethoven’s symphonies in the atmospheric reverberant acoustics of Sant Vicenç in Cardona. In Savall, who is otherwise often thoughtful to the point of meditativeness and approaches art with romantic fervor, Beethoven sounds captivating, elegant and pleasantly anti-romantic. Nothing is delayed or trivialized here, every phrase sounds understood. Savall gives the impression that a much younger twin brother of Christ von Taüll wrote these symphonies, a thoroughly Mediterranean person and not a North German who emigrated to Vienna. There is nothing psychological in these recordings, no self-celebration, no bourgeois digging in the abyss of the world. Savall consistently focuses on liberation: liberation from tradition, liberation from social and artistic norms, liberation from all doubts, considerations, frailties.

He presents the symphonies with a furor that takes your breath away

Savall fans out the sound in all its richness, makes all voices audible, which he cleverly and unobtrusively distributes to the foreground, middle ground and background. This results in an unusually wide spectrum of sound, which is particularly colorful and dazzling due to the striking historical instruments. The timpani is always present as a stimulant, it offers a harsh, dark, earthy sound, it is the guarantor of the unconditional desire for freedom in these symphonies. This is the music of a youth determined for revolution, who goes to work with the wisdom of an old philosopher. No wonder that after every symphony one is ready to murder a tyrant.

Savall, however, does not present the symphonies as a series of individual movements or even beautiful passages, but as closed narratives that combine abysses and joys, despair and speculation in a furor that takes your breath away. In addition, Savall conceives the nine pieces as a closed cycle that repeatedly plays through the basic themes of rebellion and humanity, always under new aspects: sometimes tragic and sometimes classical, sometimes close to nature and sometimes as a devil’s dance. Everything is pushing and gliding and absoluteness. Despair never spreads, the abyss never dominates, this music never glorifies what was anything but a pleasant world, even in Beethoven’s time. Savall’s Beethoven is full of confidence that neither tyrants, nor disasters, nor men themselves can subjugate humanity, but that there will be a humane future. It is the same confidence that shines from the face of Jesus of Taüll. Now it’s up to us, the people, to make that future a reality. And Savall’s Beethoven gives you the courage you need.

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