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Reviews: Orient - Occident - Hesperion XXI/Savall

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Reviews: 4

Review by Remi September 21, 2006 (3 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Beautiful performance, those guys clearly now how to play. It's also amazing to see people from all faiths and countries play together so well. The pieces are varied and entertaining in their diversity and their commonalities.

The sonics are very very good, although I have only listened to the stereo layer.

Another great SACD from Hesperion XXI.

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Review by Beagle October 17, 2007 (10 of 11 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
“—And now for something completely different…”. Savall et companie always surprise, but with excellence, and now on SACD.

THE SOUND
Each instrument speaks with the unique voice of a unique individual, rich in detail. The oud, rebab, lire and vièle are exquisite – but it is the odd percussion instrument which sends chills down this audioholic’s spine. The ensemble’s sound wraps around 180° and extends well back into my living-room: this is the “deepest” sound-stage I have heard. I prefer to reserve ½ star for the extraordinary, but this is it, so five stars.

THE MUSICIANSHIP
These are ‘world class’ musicians. Where would one find the equal or better of Driss el Maloumi, Yair Dalal and the others? If they existed, Savall would have brought them here to this recording. In honesty, I must give them the full 5 stars.

THE MUSIC
When John Cleese says “and now for something completely different”, what follows isn’t really different. The music on this disc isn’t really exotic; it is distant from us in time but it lies at the roots of the western music which follows. One can trace the course of those roots over 600 years by playing “Danza de la espadas” (14th C.), followed by the The Pogues' "If I should fall from grace with God" (20th C.): same tune, same tempo and almost the same key.

I say ‘almost’ because this music predates our key system. I did a bit of google research and learned a thing or two: Several of the titles here mention ‘makam’ (maqam, magam), a modal melody akin to hindu ‘raga’ -- or schönbergian tone-row! Likewise ‘usul’ which is a combination of rhythm and time-signature, akin to hindu ‘tala’. With these tools in hand, Cantemir’s “Makam Rast üsul Düyek” translates roughly as “Modal Melody on G in 4/4 time”.

I mention Dimitrie Cantemir because his story breathes some life into the abstractions above. Dimitrie had the good fortune to be born a prince in Romania; the bad news was that he was sent as a hostage to the Ottomans, to guarantee the loyalty of his father the king. The good news was that he was educated well there and that he developed a remarkable talent for music. He was so good that some tunes heard today in the suks of Turkey are ascribed to ‘Kantemiroglu’. And in the west where we have musak in our markets, academics are thankful to Cantemir for a manuscript containing 365 musical works (four of them on this disc), annotated in a system of his own invention.

One final detail: this disc is FUN!

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Review by Antonio November 21, 2007 (6 of 7 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
I completely agree with Beagle, this SACD undoubtedly deserves at least 5 stars !

The music is great ... but the recording, my gosh... it is really giving an extra dimension to the music, just perfect:
- wonderful details
- perfect positioning of the instruments
- infinite clarity
- perfectly balanced sound

If I should need to point out a reference disk ... this would be my disk, or at least it would end in my top5. This is not "a" SACD but "the" SACD. I don't want to sound "over positive", but you need to listen to this one ...

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Review by beardawgs January 24, 2008 (5 of 5 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
This is a crowning achievement in the domain of world music from Savall and Alia Vox team following initial musical and cultural exploration of Judeo/Arab influences on the Christian world of middle ages. What started discreetly in Isabela Isabel I, Reina de Castilla - Savall and is explored much further in magnificent double RBCD "Diaspora Sefardi" comes to its natural pinnacle with this one dedicated entirely to traditional music of Mediterranean region of middle ages. As Savall points out in the booklet, the sea that once was not just the melting pot of different cultures and traditions but the bridge and unifying force between them, since the recent Afghanistan conflict has become the division line. (For me personally this issue is particularly close to heart, as I, like many others close to me lost the country we were born in to religious conflict - I grew up on the Mediterranean coast and my musical sub conscience was shaped up to equal measure with all of these influences, abruptly cut off by the bloody war - no further proof needed that politics and culture don't mix at all).

Personal issues aside, while listening over and over again to this disc, I couldn't escape the feeling that Western (Christian?) music of the period before the Renaissance owes much more to the middle eastern culture than is today willing to admit - not so much in musical terms, but relying heavily on the archetype instruments, later on developed into recognisable forms perfectly suited for what we call today Western music. The fact that the bowing instruments were brought in from the east was one of many revelations I wasn't aware before this. I can't help myself but admiring Jordi Savall and his team for creating yet again a musical release that, for those willing to 'hear' further, cuts much deeper than the music itself.

Six musicians from Afghanistan, Morocco, Israel and Spain + Savall as the unifying force, are world class not just in their technical command of all those weird and wonderful instruments, but masters of creating images and colours in different combinations and set ups. Be it rather famous Sicilian 'Saltarello II' or frenetic 'Laili Djan' from Persia, they sway and engage with musicality brought from within by archetype musical sub-conscience from the times when this music was carried forward from generation to generation by oral tradition. It is impossible to pigeon-hole this disc, and that is the beauty of it. It is as much early music (but not the western idiom of it) as it is world music.

Sound-wise it's a pure perfection - each instrument perfectly balanced within the whole with plenty of air, focused and with natural dynamics. Quality of recording goes behind the technicalities and complements that of the musicianship perfectly.

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