Arianna Savall’s leader debut for the New Series follows her distinguished contributions to Rolf Lislevand’s “Nuove Musiche” and to Helena Tulve’s “Lijnen”, – sensuous early music on the one hand, bracingly contemporary composition on the other. In both genres she has proven to be a charismatic singer. Now comes “Hirundo Maris” which, with its very fresh instrumental textures, follows another trajectory.
Savall and band co-leader Petter Udland Johansen describe their project as a journey linking the Mediterranean and the North Sea. Hirundo Maris is Latin for “sea swallow” and, like that bird’s flight, the quintet – part early music ensemble, part folk group – drifts on musical currents between Norway and Catalonia, adds its own songs, created on the wing, and swoops down to dive beneath the surface of things. Near the centre of the sound are Arianna’s sparkling harps and the drones of Johansen’s Hardanger fiddle; when the colours of the mandolin and more unexpectedly the Dobro (not often heard outside bluegrass contexts) are added, a message is sent about the universality of song as well as of the transatlantic travels of old ballads…
Savall and Johansen have shaped a band with a bright, glistening timbral blend, capped by Arianna’s ice-clear voice, eminently well-equipped to address songs of the north and the south. It is a voice already familiar to many who have followed the outstanding work of her parents, Catalan viol master Jordi Savall and singer Montserrat Figueras: until 2008 Arianna played and sang as a member of her father’s ensembles, including Hespèrion XXI. Since then, she has been devoting much of her time to the Hirundo Maris project.
Of their “Chants du Sud et du Nord” Arianna and Petter Udland Johansen write: “From remote times, north and south have been linked by waterways navigated by the Vikings of Norway. Catalans and the Sephardic Jews have also shared this love of the sea, which through a common melancholy at some deep level connects peoples seemingly poles apart.
We discover subtle bridges of song, where a Catalan song and a Norwegian tune are linked by common rhythms and modes, or a Norwegian ballad and a Sephardic song share the same key... The origin of this project is the emblematic Catalan song ‘El Mariner’, which is very popular in the coastal regions of Catalonia and recounts the story of the love between a Mediterranean maiden and a knight from northern lands. This typical European sea shanty in the form of a dialogue is also sung to a very similar tune on the coast of Scotland. Could these intangible bridges have been forged by the numerous voyages of Vikings, Catalans, Scots and Sephardic Jews?” “Hirundo Maris” sets off in search of the answer.
“Hirundo Maris: Chants du Sud et du Nord” was recorded in January 2011 in the Austrian monastery of St Gerold, with Manfred Eicher producing. Arianna has dedicated the recording to the memory of her mother, Montserrat Figueras. (ECM Records)