A signal moment in the arrival of Italian music on Spanish soil came in the summer of 1708 when Antonio Caldara, finding his opportunities for providing dramatic works for the opera-loving Duke of Mantua limited by the War of the Spanish Succession, headed off to Barcelona to take on acommission for putting on an operatic work from Archduke Charles (“Carlos III”), who was preparing his own wedding festivities at the court he had established in order to contend for the Spanish throne. For three centuries this serenata, Il più bel nome has (like much of the hugely successful theatre music of its time written by this Baroque composer from Venice) been passed over – thereby presenting Emilio Moreno and El Concierto Español with a superb opportunity to gather together an outstanding quintet of soloists to lead this paean of praise to St Elisabeth and, by extension, to Archduke Charles’ future wife, Princess Elisabeth Christine of Wolfenbüttel.
Manhattan-native drummer Tony Moreno was born into and for music, his mother, Nina Dunkel Moreno, a noted harpist, pianist and educator. Oh, and he received his first drum kit at ten-years old from… Elvin Jones who became his early mentor and teacher. Moreno has had a long and storied career, filled with memories and mementos, many of the latter lost when Hurricane Sandy made East Coast landfall in October 2012. After losing his studio, library, and trove of his mother's musical memorabilia, The 55 Bar (55 Christopher St. (Sixth/Seventh Avenue) New York City, in the heart of Greenwich Village) offered Moreno a monthly residence for his quintet. It was during this period of rebuilding that Moreno conceived and assembled the two-disc Short Stories.
Jordi Savall has brought us yet another treasure on his own Alia Vox label, this time a mixed bag of music by Reformation Era composers and a handful of slightly earlier works. It’s all taken from a concert program Savall gave last year under the aegis of “greatest hits of the court of Charles V”. The composers presented are mostly court musicians for that Holy Roman Emperor, but Josquin and Heinrich Isaac also are included, the latter as a nod to Charles’ grandfather, Maximilian I, who was responsible for getting Charles the crown. Savall combines his first-rate instrumental ensemble, updated to Hespèrion XXI, with his own vocal group, La Capella Reial de Catalunya. The results are captivating. Savall’s musicians are tops in the field, and their collective talents, constantly on display in this varied program, are simply a joy to hear.