Friday, June 13, 2008

Sephardic Music of the Diaspora

Spanish Jordi Savall is known to Israeli audiences as a prominent viol player and for the Hesperion XXI Ensemble, of which he is the director; this a group focuses on authentic performance of works from the Middle Ages to the Baroque. In the 2008 Israel Festival “The Sepharadi Diaspora”, another of Savall’s ambitious projects, presented the music of the Jews banished from Spain in 1492, their musical and cultural heritage together with the influences of style from the various countries to which they had wandered. Some of this rich collection of song, handed down from generation to generation, was for entertainment, some functional music, some secular, some of it religious. The Spanish language used by them has undergone many changes and has also adopted words from the various countries in which these Jews settled. Artists taking part in this concert were Savall himself, musicians of Hesperion XXI, Israeli oud player, teacher and researcher Yair Dalal and singer Montserrat Figueras.

The program opened with Savall in a pensive solo. A drum joined and the mood gradually changed, becoming more energetic. Pierre Hamon added a haunting flute melody. They were then joined by Figueras. Against an understated accompaniment, Figueras sang “Pregoneros van y vienen’ (Through all the City of Aragon), an anonymous song from Sarajevo. Her singing was as intense and commanding as ever as she let the story unfold, her voice interacting with the flautist. “Levantose’l Conde Nino” (The Childe Count Rose) is an old ballad from Salonica. Beautiful in its assymetrical rhythmic patterns, it begins with a psaltery solo (Begona Olivade). Figueras ornamented the melodic line, with the instrumental ensemble commenting at the end of each phrase.

“Taksim Lami” was played by Yair Dalal (oud). Highly melodic and expressive, Dalal’s improvisations brought out the exotic character of the mode. A percussionist joined in wearing ankle bells, which he used sparingly. Dalal was joined by Savall in an instrumental version of the song of the Jews of Sarajevo “El Rey Nimrod” (King Nimrod). People in the audience, familiar with the melody, hummed along. Another fine instrumental arrangement was that of “Hermoza muchachica” (Pretty Little Girl), a melody belonging to the Jerusalem Sepharadi community. The melody itself was played on recorder, with other players taking turns to improvise solos.

Figueras gave the Moroccan lullaby,”Nani,nani”, a bewitching, highly shaped reading. Instrumentation was intense but delicate. Another outstanding performance was that of the anonymous Turkish song “Por alli paso un cavallero” (There Passed That Way a Knight). It began with Olavide playing an ornamented, virtuoso solo on psaltery. Figueras’ performance of this was humorous and coquettish. Having the lyrics in the program added much to the audience’s enjoyment.

‘There passed that way a knight,
Full noble and handsome was he.
“If such be your pleasure, Sir,
You may take your pleasure with me.”

“God who is in heaven forbid
And from such deeds preserve me.
A comely wife and children have I
And for their sake must leave thee”.

“Then get thou on thy way, fine sir,
May all go ill with thee
Mayst thou find thy wife with another
And thy children turned scoundrels see.”

“El moro de Antequera” (The Moor of Antequera) (Rhodes) is one of many early ballads that tell of events between the Christian Spanish front and the Moorish empire of Granada. Figueras gave it a delicate reading.

Jordi Savall and Hesperion XXI give high quality performances and will always delight the senses. Montserrat Figueras has presence, fine diction, and an interesting mix of colors in her vocal range; above all, she breathes meaning into each song. This concert presented a collection of wonderful, flowing melodies, works so familiar and meaningful to many in the audience.

“The Sepharadi Diaspora ”
From Medieval Spain to the Eastern Mediterranean.
Jordi Savall- musical director, bowed instruments
Montserrat Figueras-voice
Hesperion XXI
The Henry Crown Symphony Hall
June 5, 2008–06–10

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