Ensemble El Sol / Chloé Sévère

Reinas: Airs en espagnol à la cour de Louis XIII

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The group Ensemble El Sol announced the aim of specializing in music of the Spanish Baroque, a praiseworthy goal inasmuch as it's a large repertory that few other musicians have addressed systematically. With their debut album, Reinas: Airs en espagnol à la cour de Louis XIII, they sort of fulfill the goal: most of the music is French, but it has an unmistakably Spanish sound, much of it with castanets, jingling bells, and more. This was because it was associated with the court of King Louis XIII, whose culture took on a Spanish tinge due to his marriage to Anne of Austria; she was not Austrian, but a Spanish princess who brought a big retinue of courtiers to Paris. French court musicians learned Spanish music by the likes of lutenist Gaspar Sanz and soon began to write Spanish songs to please the new queen. As harpsichordist and director Chloé Sévère points out, they spoke Spanish only imperfectly, but the results, rhythmically vital and with unusual interracial romance subject matter that must have fascinated French listeners, are delightful. The major revelation here is the mezzo-soprano voice of Dagmar Šašková, heard on most of the songs. She may have a slight accent in Spanish, but given the aforementioned origins of the music, this doesn't matter a bit. Her singing is quiet, with a bit of gravel that makes you think she's going to the flat side of the pitch, except that she doesn't: she draws the listener into an intimate realm defined by each individual pitch. Add in colorful instrumental dances of various types, and the end result is a really enjoyable exploration of an almost unknown repertory.

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