Carlos V - Mille Regretz
The latest recording from Hesperion XXI on Alia Vox – and the CDs are still coming thick and fast from this most prolific of groups – is a reconstruction with a difference: ‘Carlos V’ does not merely seek to reconstruct a particular event, but a whole life, that of the Emperor Charles V. A wide range of pieces are presented as having a connection, in one way or another, with Charles V, who had numerous works dedicated to him and who is known to have been taught music as a child and in later years to have enjoyed beating time to the music of Guerrero; indeed, he seems to have regarded himself as something of a musical connoisseur. An interesting figure, then, musically as well as historically, but the selection of pieces on the CD doesn’t bear close scrutiny: yes, the chanson Mille regretz was said by the vihuelist Luys de Narvaez to be the ‘Emperor’s song’, so presumably he liked it; and Morales’ impressive motet Jubilate Deo omnis terra was written in celebration of a peace treaty negotiated by Charles. However, the relationship between a mid-15th-century cancion and the Valencian uprisings of the first half of the 16th is less than clear, historically at least – a romantic interpretation of the poetic text seems to be the motive. If there is another angle on this, I would love to know it, but you won’t find the reasoning behind the choice of pieces and how they relate to the different events of Charles’s biography in the liner-notes, which is a great shame.
Some of the choices, if not obvious in this sense, are in any case very old favourites (for example, Willaert’s Vecchie letrose or Susato’s arrangement of Janequin’s La battaglia) in the renaissance canon. Many other works which can very definitely be connected with Charles, his wife Isabel of Portugal and his son Philip are not included here and, indeed, have never been recorded, so this is an opportunity lost. Still, there is much that is good and much that is well performed (including the Susato-Janequin) and the Morales motet.
Those familiar with Hesperion XXI’s recordings will know what to expect: colourful ‘orchestration’, including percussion, of the secular items (too much drumming for my taste, though it’s appropriate enough in the ceremonial and dance pieces) and viol accompaniment to the sacred music, which often works very well. The voices of La Capella Reial de Catalunya – whose timbre is so different from the sound produced by British, or indeed any other choirs – are always worth hearing, and there is some fine singing from Jordi Ricart (to name one of the best-known singers) and his colleagues.
All in all, I’m happy enough to add this recording to my Hesperion collection, but I do think a little more research could have gone into the selection, and the presentation could be quite misleading without further explanation.'