By Lawrence Budmen

Old Music in the New World is the sweeping theme of the seventh edition of the Miami Bach Society’s Tropical Baroque Music Festival. The celebration opened on an auspicious note with the dynamic early music ensemble Hesperion XXI and its brilliant director Jordi Savall taking the stage of UM Gusman Concert Hall on Monday evening. 

Savall is a master of the viole da gamba – the predecessor of the modern cello. The gamba produces a rich, tangy sound. Savall is a virtuoso of the highest order. In his agile hands, the gamba produced myriad tonal hues and strophes of bravura fireworks. His six member vocal group La Capella Reial de Catalunya joined the instrumentalists for a spirited traversal of South and Central American music from the 17th and 18th centuries. Savall’s vocal and instrumental forces are not only superb musicians and consummate Baroque stylists. They are also great entertainers. 

La Moresca by Pedro Guerrero was a zesty opener. With its repetitive rhythmic motif, this piece was the genesis of musical minimalism. Guitarist Xavier Diaz-Latorre did a stellar solo turn in two pieces by Gaspar Sanz. Canarios revealed the elegant theme that Joaquin Rodrigo used in his Concerto Para Gentilhombre. Diaz-Latorre added flamenco riffs for good measure. Savall turned Corrente Italiana by Joan Cabanilles into a dazzling Vivaldi style gamba concerto. 

One of the concert’s greatest joys was the singing of soprano Montserrat Figueras. Gowned in flowing, elegant purple, Figueras lit up the stage with her ethereal high notes, enchanting manner, and supple musicality. The ease and charm of her silvery, light soprano voice was altogether beguiling. Figueras stirred memories of the great Victoria De Los Angeles – particularly in La Vida Bona by Joan Aranes, a De Los Angeles recital staple. Figueras’s vibratoless version of Henri du Bailly’s Yo Soy La Locura was mesmerizing. She is a very special artist. 

The entire vocal ensemble radiated joy to the Latin beat of Ande Pues Nuestro Apellido by Mateo Flecha and the early Christmas anthem Antonia Francisquita Caspar, a brilliant conclusion to a memorable evening of New World Baroque music. 

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