Jordi Savall first collaborated with the Academy of Ancient Music in 1978. Specialisation in Early Music was seen as a mild eccentricity at the time. Years of research and dedication to reviving lost instruments and playing techniques have informed the diminutive Catalan’s approach and this delightful AAM programme juxtaposed theatrical French Baroque Dance Suites alongside Handel’s Water Music.
Lully’s Alceste (1674) opened the concert in martial style with trumpets and drums. The brass and lower-woodwind players were standing at the back of the band, almost dancing to Savall’s elegant and expressive beat. The AAM players captured the style and grace of this music with lightness of touch and with individuality in phrasing and ornamentation, and the dramatic effects were riveting, including off-stage echoes.
Marin Marais was a pupil of Lully and like Savall a virtuoso on the viol, and his pieces for the instrument often have a melancholy cast. His opera Alcione (1706) became famous all over Europe for its depiction of a tempest and Marais’s colourful descriptive powers were conveyed with great engagement from the AAM. Marais injects much variety in tone and content, including funereal drums, while the ‘Sailor’s March’ embraces popular airs of the day, such is the fusing of folk and Baroque; and a wind-machine helped create a stupendous storm, then jazzy dotted rhythms brought the final ‘Chaconne’ to an energetic close.
In context, Handel’s Water Music gained a continental elegance. David Blackadder was in superb form on trumpet, setting the scene with bravado, and Savall positioned the brass dominantly to accentuate its theatrical contribution. Handel’s sophisticated score, with ever-changing moods and expressions, was granted much attention by the AAM, turns and trills given a fresh and vital outing.
Rameau’s supercharged music from Les Boréades (1764) ended the concert with sophisticated gavottes and vigorous peasant contredanses. Savall’s collaborative and democratic musicianship extended to audience participation in the final movement. The first encore, an Anonymous ‘Bourrée d’Avignonet’ proved a wild combination of sophistication and passion, and the second extra was a repeat of a Handel ‘Hornpipe’.