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Reviews: Francisco Javier: The Route to the Orient - Savall

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Reviews: 1

Review by beardawgs January 21, 2008 (14 of 15 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Jordi Savall has got his winning formula well established by now. What he calls in his introduction as CD/Books are inspired collections of historical essays and musical excerpts, this time following life and travels of Francisco Xavier, Jesuit priest spreading Christianity to Far East. After success with music from Don Quixote Don Quijote de la Mancha - Savallanony and discovery of the new world in Christophorus Columbus Christophorus Columbus: Les Paradis Perdus - Savall The Route to the Orient is the most musically diverse similar issue from this source, boldly venturing into world music waters. Not a big surprise to those who follow Allia Vox label closely, but this time he pushed his own boundaries even further and with some amazing results.

The book first – Savall’s musical inspiration is inseparable from the much wider socio-historical background and rightly so. And if the music presented is an ‘educated guess’ research into the circumstances surrounding Francisco Xavier, analysis of his life and travels are extensive and comprehensive. The story begins with the birth of Protestantism, as wide as publishing of works by Erasmus and More, over Luther’s 95 Theses, Counter-Reformation and the Trent Council. Focusing then on the creation of the Jesuit Order and of course, Xavier’s travels to India and Japan and his death on a desolate island off the coast of China. It would take too much space and time on here analysing all what is written on those subjects, suffice to say that everything you need to know is explained and presented in unpretentious manner and simple language.

Music presented is as diverse as its historical and cultural sources. The unifying force is Marian Hymn ‘O Gloriosa Domina’ heard first in its original Chant-like form, and as Xavier progresses towards Goa (Portuguese port at the time) as Indian Raga, finishing as long improvisation on Japanese traditional instruments. Even if they might not be original compositions, there is a certain historical accuracy of such approach – Jesuits were heavily relying on music in spreading the word of Christ, allowing local population to use their own musical traditions and models, incorporating western religious music they brought in with them. Needless to say, Savall’s musicians are first-rate, I’m not an expert on Indian tablas and sarods, but I was swept away with the energy, precision and rhythmic accuracy on display here. Traditional Japanese instrumentalists are equally exceptional, though Japanese inspired music is of a more dream-like, fluid quality.

Disc 1 starts with familiar central European 16th century musical idioms of the age of Humanism, with slight detours to Henry VIII England, after we reach Xavier’s studies in Paris. Each track is geographically in tune with the social milestone – be it publication of a book or birth / death of a featured protagonist. Things heat up when we move to Africa with some fine examples of traditional drumming and end up with exciting and hair rising Indian variation on ‘O Gloriosa Domina’. Disc 2 is mainly concentrated on traditional Japanese music, interrupted with choral Invitatorium by Cristobal de Morales dedicated here to the death of Pope Paul III. The quality of performance by Capella Reial de Catalunya is of equally exceptional standard, so in pure musical terms this collection is as good as it can be for a such varied compilation of styles.

The recording is crystal clear and colourful, every nuance of strange sounds perfectly preserved, with plethora of drums and plucked instruments recorded with such a presence, close your eyes and they are in your room with you. Plenty of reverb creates a natural space, big and church-like ones for the choral numbers, slightly more focused and closer for purely instrumental ones. All in all, in every different aspect of production, this release from Alia Vox is terrific, and even if you’re not so keen on world music it does open many doors into the lesser known, historically, socially and culturally.

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