New record label where music comes before money

In a 2011 radio interview Jordi Savall explained to me why he started his own record label Alia Vox - "Ten years ago we started to feel that when working with the major companies, it was impossible to create innovative projects that introduced the risks associated with unknown repertoire. This convinced us that we had to be free to make our own decisions, and had to be free to give decisions about the music priority over commercial decisions". To date Alia Vox has been a Savall family label, with Jordi and his greatly-missed wife Montserrat Figueras as the constants, supplemented by their two children Arianna and Ferran. But now, eighteen very successful years and more than one hundred CDs later, Alia Vox has become an extended family label with the launch of Alia Vox Diversa. This will release recordings made by the pool of talented musicians who are long-term collaborators with Jordi Savall, and the mission of the label is to give the music priority over commercial imperatives by showcasing little-known repertoire.

'Euskel Antiqva' is the first release on the new label. It is a programme of early vocal and instrumental music from the Basque Country performed by the Euskal Barrokensemble. This is directed by multi-lutenist Enrike Solinís, who has played with Jordi Savall's Hesperion XXI, Le Concert des Nations and Capella Reial of Catalunya, as well as with the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin and Le Concert D’Astrée. Alia Vox's exacting quality standards are applied to the multi-lingual packaging and the sound quality captured in the 14th century hermitage of San Blas in the Basque town of Tolosa is excellent, despite the production being in the hands of freelance engineers rather than the Alia Vox 'house' team. However, unlike previous Alia Vox CD releases, there is no SACD layer. This is disappointing as SACD is a genuine attempt to deliver improved sound quality; however the slow demise of SACD has been evident for some time and the apparent departure of Alia Vox is just another nail in its coffin.

Launching Alia Vox Diversa is a shrewd move by Jordi Savall, and not just because it provides valuable exposure for little-known music and musicians. Jordi is now 73 and he has lost his soulmate and muse, despite which he maintains a punishing performance schedule. Long term readers will know that I have a huge admiration for him as a musician and humanitarian, and it has been a privilege to write the programme essays for his 2014 and 2015 Salzburg Summer Festival performances. But to be totally honest, I have felt a little less enthusiasm for some of his recent work, which has relied heavily on material from earlier projects. His sparklingly new interpretations of Baroque masterpieces such as Bach's B minor Mass and Händel's Jubilate Deo have been a delight; but I miss the thrill of discovery that was the hallmark of his early and middle period transcultural explorations. (The contentious Abu Dhabi backed Ibn Battuta project looks more promising; it is not yet available on CD, but the music programme is listed here.)

Thankfully, the arrival of the first Diversa release removes many of my concerns, because 'Euskel Antiqva' both reaffirms the core values that make Alia Vox a beacon of light in an industry blundering around in corporate darkness, and brings again that thrill of discovery. Jordi Savall is not the kind of person to claim an executive producer credit, but 'Euskel Antiqva' is imbued with all the ideals - artistic, technical and aesthetic - that inform his own projects. This congruence is no more apparent than in track 3 Sibilaren Profezia (Prophecy of the Sybil) from the Song of Sybil. This is the first performance of Sibilaren Profezia in the Basque language in modern times, but Montserrat Figueras and Jordi Savall recorded the complete Song of Sybil in Catalan in 1998.

Having the freedom to take risks and give the music priority over commercial decisions is why Jordi Savall started Alia Vox, and the launch of Alia Vox Diversa shows that he is still relishing that freedom despite the current harsh market conditions. Can you imagine Universal Music or Warner Classics launching a label devoted to unknown but deserving music performed by little known musicians?

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