La Sublime Porte: Voix d'Istanbul, M. Figueras, G. Dinçer, L. Elmaleh, Hespèrion XXI, J. Savall
(released on November 25, 2011)
Alia Vox AVSA 9887 | 79'49"
Mare Nostrum, M. Figueras, L. Elmaleh, Hespèrion XXI, J. Savall
(released on January 10, 2012)
Alia Vox AVSA 9888A+B | 158'03"
In particular, the philosophical self-seriousness of the Mare Nostrum booklet essays, weaving together details of history and geography of the Mediterranean region with ponderous political diatribes on the Arab spring uprisings and immigration issues in Europe, far outweighs the rather simple music recorded here, a string of dance pieces, lullabies, and love songs, some of it medieval and much of it from the last two centuries. The mixture of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim music is a hot trend at the moment: we just reviewed two programs featuring Sephardic music in that combination, by the Rose Ensemble and the Boston Camerata. Here, as there, the problem of trying to pass off folk music of recent vintage as a comparison to notated medieval music is evident. Again, listening to the performances, which are all lovely and made with obvious conviction, is more satisfying by itself than trying to coordinate it with the somewhat superfluous, quasi-historical stuff. In short, this is pretty music but not compulsory listening.
In fact, the most compelling attraction of both of these discs is the chance to hold onto the sound of soprano Montserrat Figueras, the wife and muse of Jordi Savall, who passed away last month. Overall, La Sublime Porte is the more pleasing of these two discs, but Figueras is heard on only two tracks, rendered poignant mostly because they were recorded, in a chapel in Catalunya, only a few months before she died. In both recordings, her light, increasingly frail voice is paired with that of Israeli folk singer Lior Elmaleh. His is also a lovely voice, rather than a great one, attuned to the folk styles featured here, blurred together in a sort of potpourri. There is nothing stopping his rendition of the final tune, the title track of Mare Nostrum, from becoming the next Euro pop hit.