Hesperion XXI: intriguing as always

By R. M. Campbell

It was founded in 1974, as Hesperion XX, by Jordi Savall and Montserrat Figueras as well as Lorenzo Alpert and Hopkinson Smith. The latter two have since left the quartet leaving Savall and Figueras as founding members. On this current tour are two excellent and well-established musicians — Pierre Hamon (ney, gaita and flute) and Dimitri Psonis (oud, santur and morisca), from France and Greece, respectively. The name was also altered to Hesperion XXI accommodate the 21st century. Other than those changes, the group remains the same, exploring with uncommon intelligence and thoroughness music of Europe particularly, and a subsection of that, the Iberian peninsula, as well as the Middle East and Far East. A few examples: the “Golden Age of Spain,” “Madrigals of Monteverdi” and the Creole Villancicos of Latin America.”

If anything the 36 years of the group’s existence have proved not only the ensemble’s ability to stay alive and prosper but to keep amending its basic repertory. Its specific interests chronologically lie between the 10th century and 1800. Certainly, its current tour program, which Hesperion has recorded, reflects that. Although the program is rather vague on chronological particulars, the works performed were from 900-1600. The subtitle of the concert is “Lux feminae.” It is a “homage to the light of Woman,” wrote Figueras in the program book. “Having sung of that light for so long through music and poetry I naturally became aware that it has not always been free to shine. ‘Lux feminae’ is also a story with music about women and an invocation to femininity, as the key to the spiritual world. ‘Lux feminae’ focuses on seven aspects of women in ancient Hesperia, from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance.”

With no intermission and hardly a breath between numbers in the 90-minute program, there was an unquestionable intensity to the concert. Hesperion worked with considerable vigor to make the music compelling and different. And it often was, with the use of various instruments, already mentioned plus the rehab and lira da gamba, played by Saval, and Figueras’ dusky soprano. In fact, much of the music sounded remarkably alike, often dark and mournful despite the title suggesting the opposite. What made the concert so rewarding was the dual sense of antiquity and authenticity impeccably played. It was a kind of rare adventure.

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One thought on “Hesperion XXI: intriguing as always

  1. Agreed. I would also suggest that the aspects of African music/language/culture/instrumentation that were included shows how differently Spanish music was influenced, compared to other European countries. The final lament was a strange choice for a concert closer, but was undeniably powerful. We are lucky here in Seattle to have a chance to hear such amazing musicians.

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