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 Recording of the Week, Francis Xavier and Jordi Savall

Jordi Savall is described on his Wikipedia page as “a viol player, conductor, and composer” – true enough. But more importantly he is also a musicologist, a researcher, an educator and a man with such vision that his achievements will be unrivalled for years to come.

St. Francis Xavier
St. Francis Xavier

His latest such achievement is his homage to the 16th Century figure of St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552). Savall says he has been intrigued for many years by the extraordinary travels of Francis Xavier, a Spanish pioneering Roman Catholic Christian missionary who travelled hundreds of thousands of miles, driven by the force of his beliefs to lay the foundations of new Christian communities.

Following the success of similar tributes to Don Quijote and Christopher Columbus this new release (out today) takes the form of a book and 2 disc set. The book charts Francis Xavier’s travels – from old Europe to the land of the rising sun – with the help of extracts from his letters and passages and illustrations from the most representative texts of his age. The music recalls the key stages in his life, and also reflects the different music he would have heard on his travels (for example the drums and the oud of Africa, the sarod and the tabla of India, and the flutes, the Biwa and the chants of Japan).

Jordi Savall
Jordi Savall

But what I find particularly fascinating about this set is that it also includes music appropriate to other historical events at the time. It was a fascinating period in history with events like Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg; Henry VIII breaking with Rome and ordering the execution of Thomas More; and Pope Paul III approving the Society of Jesus (Jesuits - of which Xavier is considered one of the founders). It is not descriptive music that Savall chooses, but music that evokes the various historical events, reveals the spirit and the atmosphere in the Courts, and music that we believe or imagine the protagonists of the period would have listened to.

All in all this is a really imaginative and inventive way to pay tribute to the great Francis Xavier and by the end you really feel that you have explored his life and times from the inside out. It is beautifully presented in a hard-back gold covered book, and will hopefully inspire others to produce similar releases in the future.

Driss El Maloumi & Lahoucine Baquir (oud & percussion) & Senhora del Mundo (voz, psalteri, sarod & tablas) Hespèrion XXI & La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Jordi Savall

Available Formats: 2 SACDs, MP3, FLAC