* Borgia Dynasty – Church and Power in the Renaissance – Montserrat Figueras, soprano/ Lior Elmalich, cantor/Driss El Maloumi, cant and oud/ Pascal Bertin, countertenor/Lluis Vilamajo, tenor/ Marc Mauillon, baritone/Furio Zanasi, baritone / Daniele Carnovich, bass/ La Capella Reial de Catalunya/ Hesperion XXI/ Jordi Savall, director – Alia Vox multichannel SACD 9874 (3 discs & bound book), 222:27 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:
We have here another sterling package by Jordi Savall and company, a book-bound set of glossy pages and jammed with information about the Borgia Dynasty, a family that held sway in Europe primarily through the exercise of Papal power after arising from the small kingdom of Valencia and in the span of just 50 years virtually taking over. Pope Alexander VI, his nemesis Julius II, Cesare Borgia, and finally St. Francis Borgia supply the main drama to the story, aside from the craziness of Alexander’s illegitimate daughter Lucrezia, with her three arranged marriages and at least one affair.
The notes are amazingly circumspect and fair in their treatment of the Borgias, pointing out that their sins were not much different than those being committed in every European court at the time, and also highlighting their accomplishments as well, which are not insignificant. The three marvelously recorded SACDs are divided into seven sections: The Origins and rise of the Borgia family; The demise of the Spain of the Three Cultures and the conquest of power: the Vatican; The culmination and end of a dream; The age of upheavals and Humanism; Battles and truces: Military and political responsibilities; Renunciation and spiritual transformation; Final years, Death and canonization of Francisco de Borgia. Along the way we get to hear a Credo supposedly by St. Francis Borgia; a piece also supposedly written by St. Teresa of Avila; and many other works by the most important composers of the age like Morales, Josquin, Isaac, Dufay, and many others, along with selected readings as well, with the music embedded in a great variety of styles and ensembles.
It is a curious and estimable attempt to chronicle a very strange, attractive, and yet repulsive period of European history that has maintained fascination for hundreds of years, and is of great importance to the launch of the humanistic Renaissance. Savall has done a marvelous job of musical selection (performances are outstanding as usual) and quite frankly some of this music is achingly beautiful, making this one of the best of his book sets to yet appear. This is a musical chronicle of high importance and one that demonstrates the achievements of a fairly corrupt family whose end concluded with a man who emerged as the diamond in the rough, proving all the more that even in the midst of great corruption there were still many good and splendid and even holy things to come out of a period of seeming sleaze among those who ruled. Highest recommendation for a trip down Borgia memory lane, and for the magnificent music. [Special laudits for the terrific and very readable English notes in all Alia Vox packages. In three languages too. English notes on many European albums are often in poor syntax and full of typos…Ed.]
— Steven Ritter