Reasons to think that Peralada has entered the musical Easter map

In just two editions, the Peralada Festival seems to have entered the musical Easter map in its own right.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
30 March 2024 Saturday 22:27
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Reasons to think that Peralada has entered the musical Easter map

In just two editions, the Peralada Festival seems to have entered the musical Easter map in its own right. The level of its proposals and the attractiveness of the place in the Empordà have quickly turned it into a pole of attraction for local and international audiences. But above all, it has already played from the start in the league of European festivals, with daring and innovative bets within the framework of the liturgical tradition that Holy Week requires.

These five concerts that took place in three days - from Thursday to Holy Saturday - in the Carme church have been a kaleidoscopic sample of the festival's strengths: to begin with, the recovery of incontestable works from the corpus of early music, such as this San Giovanni Battista, an oratorio that is among the most powerful works of Alessandro Stradella and that Vespres d'Arnadí and Xavier Sabata have commissioned to premiere in Catalonia together with the soprano Giulia Semenzato, three and a half centuries after it saw the light in Rome. A discovery that will not be the last by the musical director Daniel Espasa and the Catalan countertenor, a tandem that has been providing projects in the summer edition of Peralada for some time. Well, the music lover of early music lives not only on Savall.

And if it might seem that the festival was rushing to commission responsories of Holy Comes from contemporary composers after having only programmed, in its first edition, the Oficio de Tinieblas by Tomás Luis de Victoria, the premiere of the neo-Renaissance Tenebrae Responsoria by Joan Magrané, this week, has confirmed that innovating and taking risks is what makes Peralada a festival ready to play in the European Easter league. The success of these dissonant lessons and deconstructed harmonies - which took advantage of the best of the acoustics of the Carme nave - constitute a current look at the musical liturgical tradition that deserves to have a life beyond its premiere.

In this sense, the artistic director of the festival, Oriol Aguilà, is already thinking about suitable places to export his production. “We have always wanted to be a window for home groups and for our ambassador artists to take these productions to other places,” he says. For now, Magrané's piece could be heard at the Cuenca Religious Music Festival, also as a Holy Week service, or at the Festival de musique Baroque d'Ambronay, in France, which takes place in autumn.

"A second Easter edition was necessary to confirm that we are here and now is the time to make alliances: why shouldn't Magrané's Responsoria be able to take place in Paris, being a composer with French ties?" asks Aguilà.

Thirdly, the festival not only gives space to excellent early music groups from the country, such as this Bachcelona Consort that emerged from the Barcelona festival and which, together with the vocal soloists of the Salvat Beca Bach, provided Bach's Lutheran version of the Stabat Mater of Pergolesi. The commitment to excellent groups that are unknown to the national public, such as the Choir and Orchestra of the Royal Opera of Versailles, is another asset of Peralada.

The contest was open to a formation that, contrary to what it may seem, has not existed since King Louis XIV programmed plays in the theater of his palace in Versailles, but has emerged five years ago, in 2019, at the initiative of the former French Minister of Culture Jean-Jacques Aillagon (architect of the famous patronage law that bears his name), who saw the need to provide the Versailles opera house with its own training.

This ensemble that closed the Easter edition of Peralada on Saturday is largely financed by the French-Swiss millionaire who is behind many European opera institutions, Aline Foriel Destezet, and it is thanks to her economic boost that this young ensemble has been able to record 123 albums in just five years, at a rate of 5 a month, many of them live.

It is true that the formation that was seen in Peralada this Saturday was not the orchestra and the choir as such - since they were performing at the same time in Versailles -, but even if it is a split of soloists, in life we ​​will have heard more excellent franchise of Baroque music that is made up of female voices interpreting Couperin's lessons of darkness, Cléranbault's motets and Charpentier's responsories.

Peralada shows signs of specializing in a specific topic, which guarantees that it will become a reference within the annual calendar. The only thing that remains to be done is to study the acoustics of the Carme church in more depth. Setting up a carpeted stage as an extension of the stone altar can give fabulous results when it comes to muffling the sound of the piano. And the only one who sits down to play is Javier Perianes in a Falla, Debussy, Granados program of those who make history (Saturday afternoon). But he can detract from the sound allegory of a Stabat Mater and not even be at the service of the coloratura of San Giovanni Battista. Only Magrané, who always composed with that acoustic in mind, managed to overcome all the obstacles. "He nailed it," the critics displaced there insisted, in unison.