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Modern masterpiece from Ottoman past 17 mars 2012

Posted by Acturca in Art-Culture, History / Histoire, Istanbul, Turkey / Turquie.
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The Age (Australia) March 17, 2012, p. 25
Music – Review of the week

John Shand

About 500 years ago Istanbul was reportedly a city of peerless beauty, containing a thriving, essentially harmonious multiculturalist, multi-faith society and vast artistic riches. Among these was music.

Early Turkish Music
La Sublime Porte
Hesperion XXI/Savall
(Alia Vox/Fuse) RATING: 5/5

Jordi Savall, that Spanish maestro of multiple stringed instruments, is a modern-day Odysseus who has taken his Hesperion XXI ensemble on many pan-Mediterranean musical adventures, as well as ranging farther afield. His time-travelling has been even greater in scope and here he opens a door to the musical treasures of Istanbul between 1430 and 1750.

The capital of the Ottoman Empire was known as La Sublime Porte (Gateway to Happiness), such was its beneficence. Like the city, the music was a melting pot, drawing on Greek, Sephardic and Armenian traditions. Savall has augmented his already multinational ensemble with virtuosos on the requisite traditional instruments, so that no fewer than 10 countries from across Europe and the Middle East are represented in the ranks.

The music moves between stately grandeur and raw emotionalism. Even with up to 16 players at work simultaneously it has extraordinary buoyancy and gracefulness, thanks to the textural lightness of the assembled strings, woodwinds and percussion. Savall is masterful at layering these with inestimable subtlety, so that behind Gursoy Dincer’s astounding singing on a traditional Ottoman piece, for instance, there is the barest whisper of percussion and strings.

Also singing on two pieces is Savall’s wife, the superb soprano Montserrat Figueras, just months before her tragic death. She pours her luminosity into two Sephardic songs, the first in a dialogue with the Israeli singer Lior Elmaleh. Both will stand as lasting memorials to her glorious artistry.

Whether Savall’s ensemble replicates how this music would have sounded hundreds of years ago cannot be known and is not even the real point, despite the assiduous research he has undertaken. Savall’s intentions are not academic, but creative.

Armed with what can be gleaned from the available notated music, and with the finest players he can muster, he has realised gorgeous living music; sounds that speak to us while opening a door on a sumptuous past. It is improbable that this material was ever played with more skill, commitment, empathy and passion.

As with all Alia Vox releases, the production values and presentation (including enthralling liner notes) equal the endless care that has gone into rendering the music. It will illuminate modern minds and hearts, just as it once did the cultured souls at the court of Sultan Mehmed II and his successors. A rare masterpiece.

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