Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sephardic music performed by Ensemble Me La Amargates Tu at the 2014 Israel Festival

A unique event of the 2014 Israel Festival was “My Heart Remembers” – Romances and Canciones from Sepharad - performed by Ensemble “Me La Amargates Tú” on June 7th in the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship of the Jerusalem International YMCA. “Me La Amargates Tú” was formed as the result of interest in- and research on Sephardic music and Spanish music of the 15th-, 16th and 17th centuries. Using the original Ladino lyrics of the former, the ensemble combines Jewish folkloric tradition with elements from the period in which Sephardic communities were living in the Iberian Peninsula prior to the expulsion of Jews by the Inquisition. Up to the beginning of the 20th century, when scholars began recording and notating them, the singing of Sephardic songs was orally preserved, being passed down from generation to generation. The traditional language of many Sephardic Jews is Ladino (or Judeo-Spanish), a language mainly derived from Old Castilian (Spanish), with words borrowed from Turkish, Greek, Arabic, Hebrew and South Slavic. Depending on when and where they were composed, their melodies and rhythms were colored by Spanish, Turkish, Arabic and Balkan music. Mostly sung on social occasions, and mostly by women, the Ladino songs focus on everyday life events and sentiments, on love, sadness, loneliness, despair, happiness, etc.

With each artist hailing from a different country, the group’s members meet in The Hague, Holland. Members of the ensemble are tenor Esteban Manzano (Argentina), recorder player Doret Florentin (Greece/Israel), viol player Tulio Rondón (Venezuela/USA), Sarah Ridy (UK/Belgium) on Baroque harp and percussionist Juan Martinez (Mexico). Guest singer for the event was Israeli mezzo-soprano Bracha Kol. The ensemble takes its name from line 7 of “Adio Querida” (Goodbye, my Beloved), a song of love and loss:
‘When your mother delivered you
And brought you into the world
She did not give you a heart
To love with and be loved.

Farewell, farewell my dear,
I do not want my life.
You have embittered it for me.

Go look for another love,
Knock on other doors,
Wait for another passion,
Because for me you are dead.

Farewell, farewell, my dear.’

With the first notes of “I Will Seek You at Dawn”, sung to a liturgical poem of Ibn Gabirol (11th century) in both Hebrew and Ladino, the audience was swept into the enchanting world of Sephardic song, many of the pieces familiar to members of the audience, who occasionally joined in with gentle humming. The ensemble’s instrumental combinations and, in particular, the sensitive, delicate, evocative arrangements at the hands of the players, presented each work with a fusion of imagination, the art of understatement and delicacy. Having the texts at hand gave the audience a glimpse into the folk stories behind the songs, many of them bathed in gentle humor. One well-known song, the amiable, somewhat whimsical “El Rey de Francia” (The King of France) tells of the daughter of the King of France who dreams of love. The song opened with the harp joined by soprano viol, thus creating a dream-like mood, its dialogue sung by Bracha Kol and Esteban Manzano. As heard several times during the evening, Doret Florentin’s inspiring and enterprising recorder improvisations and ornamentation were enough to keep the listener poised at the edge of his seat. The traditional Ladino lullaby “Durme Durme” (Sleep, Sleep) , introduced by tenor recorder and harp, and graced with gently intimated percussion sounds and a viol solo, was sung by Manzano with beguiling subtlety. Altogether, Esteban Manzano’s performance throughout the evening was charismatic and moving; his voice is warm, nuanced, easeful and richly colored, his insightful delving into the music’s sentiments finding its way directly to the listener’s heart. Bracha Kol’s lusty approach to the songs gave a voice to some of the more robust and salacious texts, at times sidestepping the fragility of settings.

Another genre represented on the program was the “villancico”, as found in the “Cancionero de Palacio” manuscript (Spain, 1470-1510). The villancico was a common poetic and musical form of the Iberian Peninsula (and Latin America) sung in the vernacular. “Me La Amargates Tú” performed four of them. The instrumentalists also gave tasteful and well-informed performances of two Ricercadas of Diego Ortiz (1510-1570).

Me La Amargates Tu is a group combining serious enquiry into Sephardic Jewish music, fine performance and refreshing spontaneity. Let's hear more of this superb ensemble!

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