Baroque vocal recitals are not that rare, even in Kong Kong, but to have two almost back-to-back—Magdalena Kožená followed by the perhaps not-as-widely-known but nevertheless entirely enthralling “La Galanía” ensemble only 48-hours later—is a one-in-a-blue-moon set of events. The latter played a (will wonders never cease?) free concert of 17th-century Spanish and Italian love songs at the University of Hong Kong’s Grand Hall.
The first half of the program consisted of songs in Spanish, if not necessarily Spanish songs. Indeed, the relatively well-known lead piece, “Yo soy la locura”, is from early 17th century French composer Henri de Bailly. Three others were “found” in Italian collections, but with Spanish words. (In addition to playing the theorbo, a sort of long-necked bass lute, ensemble co-founder Jesús Fernández Baena apparently digs deep into libraries throughout Europe to uncover buried works, some of which were on the program.) Nevertheless, whether due to the language or perhaps the performers, these half-dozen songs formed a coherent whole, and one remarkably perky despite being some four centuries old. There is something accessible about this music, so that even when one could not have possibly heard a piece before, it sounded familiar. The second, Italian, half of the program was dominated by relatively better-known works by Monteverdi.
One of the highlights of the evening was “Jácara de la trena”, a long narrative poem by Francisco de Quevedo with highly rhythmical music reconstructed by musicologist Álvaro Torrente. Another was a recently located anonymous Italian work called “Cruda signora”. Both were well-chosen to conclude their respective sections.
“La Galanía” was founded in 2010 by Spanish soprano Raquel Andueza and Jesús Fernández Baena. They were joined here by Pierre Pitzl on the baroque guitar. Andueza’s clear soprano seems particularly well-suited to this music; she injects, along with some pretty peppy playing from the baroque strings, just enough of a seemingly modern idiom to actually keep toes tapping. A friendly stage presence—Andueza worked introductions and explanations of the works into the program—made for an evening whose pleasant intimacy belied the fact there were close to 1000 people in attendance.