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From Byzantium to Andalusia: Medieval Music and Poetry
Kyrie eleison [3:21]
Fa mi cantar l’amor di la beata [6:47]
De la cruel morte de Cristo [1:59]
Laude novella [3:49]
Sallalahu ala Mohammed [4:42]
Pesrev [1:29]
Ey Dervisler [4:59]
Plangiamo quel crudel basciare [3:07]
Venite a laudare [2:40]
Keh moshe [1:44]
Adon Haselihot [3:21]
Galeas, mis galeas [3:48]
Jalla man [4:07]
Stella splendens in monte [8:23]
O Maria, d’omelia [5:00]
Oni Wytars Ensemble/Peter Rabinser. Belinda Sykes
rec. Grosse Sendesaal, Hessischer Rundfunk, Frankfurt, 14-16 December 2001. DDD
NAXOS 8.557637 [60:25]

 

 

As coincidence would have it I listened to this CD only days after attending a lecture about the reconquest of Spain and hearing a Spanish music (Christian, Jewish, Islamic) concert by the venerable Waverley Consort. At first glance this disc seemed to flow perfectly into the same stream of Iberian music and history. But after I had listened to From Byzantium to Andalusia, I realized that I was dealing with something a little different. This CD represents a cross-section of musical/religious cultures around the Mediterranean, including Spain, but spreading a wider and less concentrated musical net than the lecture and the concert.

For those not up on their Iberian history, 1492 was not only the year that Columbus discovered America, but also the year that the Christian Spanish conquered the last stronghold of the Moorish Muslims in Spain. This was more than a political event as the Christian rulers Ferdinand and Isabella soon exiled any Moors and Jews who were not willing to convert to Christianity, in spite of previous promises to the contrary. The Moorish rule before this had been tolerant of all non-Islamic faiths and over time had evolved a syncretic combination of cultures and religions that seems praiseworthy even today. While not as tolerant, the Byzantine civilization at the other end of the Mediterranean also presented a positive picture of cultures living in harmony. A third example might better known to fans of Szymanowski: the court of King Roger.

The Oni Wytars Ensemble has been in existence since the early 1980s, a time when World music was almost an unknown concept. Their specialty is music of the whole Mediterranean and of all the inherent cultures, which is a very extensive charge, as they have demonstrated by the variety of their previous recordings on Naxos. On this disc they try to demonstrate the commonality of musical style in the area five hundred years ago, but end up displaying a more common approach in their own performances than in the music itself.

Of the fifteen tracks listed above, we may divide them up for demonstration purposes as follows:

Christian: Tracks 1-4, 8, 9, 14, 15
Arab: Tracks 5-7, 13
Jewish: Tracks 10-12

From the Christian tracks alone we have music from Italy (Laudario di Cortona), Lebanon, and two different parts of what we now call Spain. The Jews and the Arabs are similarly all over the map. Yes, if you close your eyes, you frequently don’t know which tradition the music belongs to, but one is left with more of a musical travelogue than with a picture of a unique moment in Western history. The Mediterranean is the main character here, not the various peoples of the past.

The research that went into this disc is well documented in the program notes. The recording is excellent; though it seems to be taken from a couple of live concerts. One would not know it except for the applause. The individual performers are very committed and very lively, though their performance style tends to favor the Islamic part of the Mediterranean equation at the expense of the Judeo-Christian. As a document of the interpenetration of culture in this time and place, the disc falls short because it spreads its net too wide geographically at the same time that it applies a uniform style to a many-sided world.

William Kreindler

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