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A Mediterranean Christmas
ANON. Takshim Farahfaza / Respondemos [3:58]
Alfonso EL SABIO (1221-1284) Madre de Dios [3:25]
ANON. Gregis pastor [3:08]
ANON. Gloria ‘n Cielo [2:38]
Folquet DE MARSEILLE (1150-1231) Senher Dieus / ANON. Lux refulget [3:46]
Alfonso EL SABIO (1221-1284) Santa Maria, strela do dia [3:49]
ANON. Polorum regina [2:24]
Alfonso EL SABIO (1221-1284) Como sonos per conssello [5:57]
ANON. Ave maris stella / ANON. O Maria, Deu maire [4:15]
ANON. Mei amic e mei fiel [2:45]
Alfonso EL SABIO (1221-1284) Todo logar mui ben / ANON. Taouchia [5:36]
ANON. Noi siamo i magi [2:08]
ANON. Quando el rey Nimrod [4:37]
ANON. Heu! Heu! [1:57]
ANON. Pastres, placatz vostre troupèu [3:48]
ANON. En Belén tocan a fuego [4:31]
ANON. Duérmete, niño, duérme [1:48]
ANON. Nani na ya srira [1:19]
ANON. Borea / Alfonso EL SABIO (1221-1284) Tant’ aos peccadores [9:34]
The Boston Camerata / Sharq Arabic Music Ensemble: Hayet Adad, Anne Azéma, Equidad Barès, Anne Harley (voices); Hazel Brooks (vielle); Joes Cohen (lauta, guitar, voice); Steve Lundahl (recorders, slide trumpet, shofar, voice); Karim Nagi (riqq, tar, darabuka, duff, chifonie, voice); Boujema Razgui (tar, darabuka, nay, raita, voice); Kareem Roustom (oud, guitar, voice). Directed by Joel Cohen and Karim Nagi.
rec. Church of the Covenant, Boston, 29 June-3 July 2005. DDD
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 62560-2 [71:22]

If you want to get away from a pseudo-Dickensian Christmas of snow and robins, this is the CD for you, bathed as it is in sunshine!

Not for the first time, Joel Cohen’s alertness and intelligent open-mindedness has allowed him to produce a programme which is wide-ranging in time and space and yet coherent, informed by scholarship but in no way pedantic. A Mediterranean Christmas ranges geographically from Provence and Tuscany to Spain, the Balkans and Morocco; in time it spans roughly seven centuries from 1200.

The programme is presented in five sections. The first is called ‘The Sign of Judgement’ and includes a beautiful Galician song which sets the Sybilline prophecy of the Last Judgement. It is here wonderfully sung by Hayet Adad, to the accompaniment of a vivacious instrumental ensemble which includes the shofar – the Jewish ram’s horn trumpet, powerfully played by Steven Lundahl.

The second section is ‘The Dawn Approaching’, which incorporates a reading of verses by Folquet de Marseille and ‘Gloria ’n cielo’, a beautiful Italian lauda of the thirteenth century, convincingly performed by Anne Harley. The third section, ‘Star of the Day’ presents two of the cantigas of Alfonso the Wise.

The longest section – appropriately enough – is devoted to ‘The Birth of Jesus’. There are many delights here, such as a carol from the Andalusian folk tradition, prefaced by a perfectly judged guitar improvisation by Kareen Roustom and movingly performed by Equidad Barès, Anne Harley and Hayet Adad, and another carol from the Italian speaking coast of Dalmatia, ‘Nois siamo i magi’. This has a hypnotic modal melody. Most remarkable of all is ‘Quando el rey Nimrod’ which is best described in the words of Cohen’s notes: "From 19th-century Bosnia, here is an extraordinary and beautiful example of cultural syncretism. The story, of course, is that of the Star of Bethlehem, adapted to celebrate the birth of father Abraham by the Spanish-speaking Jews of the Balkans. Here it is Abraham who lies in the cradle, and the bad King Nimrod stands in for Herod of the New Testament. The text, in Judaeo-Spanish, mixes in a number of Hebrew terms, and the musical mode is Arabo-Turk, that of hejaz-al-kabir". Richly coloured and fiercely rhythmical, its performance here is a tour-de-force.

The last section, ‘Mother and Child’, begins with two lullabies, one in Spanish and one in Arabic, both sung unaccompanied by, respectively, Equidad Bares and Hayat Ayad – and each sung with exquisite tenderness and unsentimental sweetness. The programme closes with one of the narratives from the cantigas of Alfonso the Wise, in which the Virgin miraculously intercedes to care for a distressed mother and her sick son. It makes a triumphant conclusion to a glorious CD.

Joel Cohen is, to borrow a phrase of his own which I quoted earlier, a master of "cultural syncretism". This is a life-enhancing CD, an affirmation of values that are by no means exclusively Christian, values such as love and compassion. This is by no means just a CD for the Christmas market; it is a collection of lasting value and one to which I shall, I am sure, listen many times throughout the year.

Glyn Pursglove



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