Venezia Millenaria: 700-1797
1000 years of Venetian music: assorted works
Hespèrion XXI; Ensemble Panagiotis Neochoritis; La Capella Reial de Catalunya; Le Concert des Nations/Jordi Savall
Alia Vox AVSA9925 (hybrid CD/SACD) 156 mins (2 discs)
Writers have endlessly chronicled the Venetian Republic, but no one has thought to tell La Serenissima’s story in an audacious musical timeline stretching from its 8th century foundation to the Napoleonic demise of 1797. Until now. And there are no prizes for guessing that the indomitable Jordi Savall and his intrepid forces are behind a lavishly illustrated package as easy on the eye as it is stimulating to brain and ear. Where to begin? Venezia Millenaria is as kaleidoscopic as the city itself, Venice’s trademark cosmopolitanism reflected in Savall’s augmenting of his home team(s) with Ensemble Panagiotis Neochoritis, and an East-meets-West musical bazaar where western instruments rub up against santur, oud and duduk. Savall’s skill doesn’t just reside in locating apposite music to match historical events, but in finding pieces that bounce off their neighbours, teasing out the things that unite across the supposed divide. A smoky Taverner-esque Byzantine Hallelujah resounds down the centuries at the start, a fascinating vocal respray hijacking Beethoven’s Fifth and Seventh Symphonies signals journey’s end; and in between, punctuated by bells, Byzantine and Orthodox chant, German, Cypriot, Persian, Armenian, North African and Peloponnese contributions interleave the music of natives such as Andrea Gabrieli and Vivaldi, and adopted sons Willaert, Monteverdi and Rossi. The cavernous acoustics that lend mystery to the ancient chant and panache to the Ottoman Nikriz March are perhaps less helpful in other contexts, and in a very few places the performances are more rough than ready. But no one who loves Venice (or Savall’s boundless, creative curiosity) can be without this life-enhancing, utterly intoxicating release.