Harmonie Universelle II is the second of what seems to be an ongoing series of compilations issued by Alia Vox, the label founded by Catalan gambist Jordi Savall and singer Montserrat Figueras. It is labeled "Portrait Alia Vox 2001-2004," but one might even be permitted to speak of greatest hits: the label's sales are approaching the figure of one million discs. The album presents excerpts from perhaps a dozen Alia Vox albums, organizing the contents logically into six categories. These are unlabeled except for Roman numerals (and you can get an idea of the low energy level that goes into compilations by noting that the last category is mislabeled with a "IV" instead of a "VI"), but there is a medieval and traditional group, a Renaissance group, some Baroque viol pieces, an interlude of contemporary music by Arvo Pärt and by Jordi and Arianna Savall themselves, some High Baroque pieces, and an excerpt from a Classical-era opera by Vicente Martín y Soler.
It's a decent sampling of the activities of Savall and his orbit, and the listener will be impressed in this context by how well the basic Savall style -- sensuous, a bit sexy, yet exacting and admirably adept at shaping long lines -- holds up across nearly a thousand years of music. There are, however, no liner notes pertaining to the music itself, and no texts for the vocal pieces are included. A sumptuous Alia Vox catalog is enclosed, but the notes on the individual pieces refer only to the album number in the catalog, not to the much more recognizable title (such as Elizabethan Consort Music). There is certainly a lot of gorgeous music here, as usual with Savall, and his legions of fans may want to hear his various kinds of music-making juxtaposed against one another. The album would also be good to play at a party, where a hearer might be seized by a single detail and want to know more. The average buyer interested in Savall, however, might do better to pick an individual album and absorb it in depth. After all, as the label itself claims in the liner material here, "the final completion of an album marks a crucial stage in the long process of research, re-creation, experimentation, reflection, and interpretation in which all true artists are engaged."