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Sacred Bridges
Salomone ROSSI (1570-c1630)
Psalm 124 (1622) [02:27]
Ali UFK (Wojciech BOBOWSKI) (1610-1675)/Claude GOUDIMEL (1514/20-1572)
Psalm 9 [06:17]
Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562-1621)
Psalm 6 (1604) [04:01]
Ali UFK/Genevan Psalter
Psalm 6 [13:22]
trad Jewish
Psalm 113 [01:44]
Salomone ROSSI
Psalm 118 (1622) [04:49]
Instrumental improvisation on Psalm 2 [06:08]
Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK
Psalm 7 (1604) [04:36]
Ali UFK/Genevan Psalter
Psalm 2 [09:02]
Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK
Psalm 2 (1604) [03:07]
Psalm 5 [12:06]
Salomone ROSSI
Psalm 128 (1622) [03:54]
The King's Singers: David Hurley; Robin Tyson (alto); Paul Phoenix (tenor); Philip Lawson; Christopher Gabbitas (baritone); Stephen Connolly (bass)
Sarband: Mustafa Doģan Dikmen (voice); Celaleddin Bier (ney); Ahmed Kadri Rizeli (kemāne ī-rūmī); Safinaz Rizeli (kanūn); Vladimir Ivanoff (bendir)
rec. May 2005, St Andrews Church, Toddington, UK. DDD

The title of this disc is explained by Vladimir Ivanoff in the booklet. Jews, Christians and Muslims sing and listen to the same songs of lament and joy, confessions of sin, hymns of praise and adoration. In this project of the King's Singers and Sarband, psalm settings by composers from three religions give an example of how psalms can be a source of spirituality, a political instrument, a link between tradition and modernity and, above all, a bridge connecting human beings.
This statement should be taken with a grain of salt. The Psalms may indeed be something all three religions share, but the way they see them is rather different. The Old Testament, which the Book of Psalms is part of, is held in high esteem by Muslims, but for them it doesn't have the same status as it has in the Jewish faith. And the Christians see a connection between the Psalms of the Old Testament and Jesus Christ, which is reflected by the addition of a doxology to the Psalms: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. Therefore considering the Book of Psalms as a bridge between the three religions seems a little exaggerated.
But this project is very interesting nonetheless, in particular as far as the connection between the Psalms and Islam is concerned. All the Psalm settings on this disc are in some way or another connected to the developments in the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe.
Both centuries were dominated by religious conflicts, in particular between Catholicism and Protestantism. The spreading of the Reformation and the attempts of the Roman Catholic Church to preserve or restore its dominant position in Europe resulted in a series of wars. It was the Peace of Utrecht of 1713 which marked the end of that sequence of wars inspired by the conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism. This conflict also had consequences for the Jews. One of the aims of the Counter-Reformation was to separate Christians and Jews. These attempts were not always successful, and around 1600 some Italian courts showed interest in Jewish thinking and appointed Jewish musicians at their courts. One of them was Salomone Rossi, who became a violinist at the Gonzaga court in Mantua. It was his aim to bring the music of the synagogue more in line with the contemporary style of composing. His collection of Psalms, Hashirim asher lish'lomo, published in 1622, was an attempt to write music for the synagogue in polyphonic style. But there was much resistance from within Jewish circles. One of the arguments was that polyphony was something for specialists, whereas the singing of Psalms in the synagogue should be part of the congregation. It wasn't only the resistance from within, but also the political developments that brought Rossi's attempts to an end. Italy was invaded by Emperor Ferdinand of Austria, and Mantua was hit by the plague in 1628. Many Jews were banned from the city.
The view that Psalms should be sung by the congregation was shared by the Calvinist wing of Protestantism. In circles of the French Protestants the Huguenots - poets and musicians worked at a rhymed version of the 150 Psalms, set to relatively simple melodies which the congregation would be able to sing. This collection, completed in Geneva in 1562, and therefore called the 'Genevan Psalter' (or the 'Huguenot Psalter'), came into use in Calvinist communities in France, Switzerland and with Dutch rhymed verses - in the Low Countries. Some composers of fame used the melodies to write compositions in the traditional polyphonic style. One of them was Claude Goudimel, another Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck. The latter's religious conviction is still something of a mystery. Even if he always remained Catholic by heart as is sometimes argued he joined the Reformed Church if only to be able to play as organist in the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam. His polyphonic settings were not meant to be sung in the Calvinist Church in the Netherlands, but rather at the homes of the aristocracy and in their social gatherings.
The melodies of the Genevan Psalter also spread through Germany and Poland, although they never received the status they had in the countries dominated by Calvinism. But it is due to the fact that these melodies were known in Poland that they found their way to the Ottoman empire. A young Polish composer, Wojciech Bobowski (1610-1675), was enslaved by Crimean Tatars and sold to the court of Mehmed IV of Constantinople. During his reign the Ottoman empire experienced a golden era in music. In Constantinople Bobowski received an education and converted to Islam. He changed his name to Ali Ufk, and received an important position at the Sultan's court, as musician, treasurer and interpreter. He translated an Anglican catechism in Ottoman and wrote a Latin explanation of Islam. He also compiled a small collection of Psalms for which he made use of melodies from the Genevan Psalter, which he adapted to the Turkish modal system.
The Psalm melodies performed with instruments from the Middle East by the ensemble Sarband is the most interesting and intriguing part of this disc. It is peculiar that the performance of the Genevan Psalm settings by Sarband isn't as weird as one perhaps would expect. In fact, when they are sung by Mustafa Doģan Dikmen one gets a strong sense of authenticity. That is not the case, though, when the King's Singers sing the Psalm melodies to the accompaniment of Sarband's instruments. They just don't fit, as the sound of the King's Singers is very West European. From a historical point of view this combination is certainly not tenable.
But I wholeheartedly recommend this disc, which is one of the most original and interesting which I have heard of late. It pays attention to the Genevan Psalter, which has been unjustly neglected by the recording industry. And by shedding light on the connection between the Psalter and the Ottoman culture it adds something to our knowledge of the relationship between East and West in musical history.
Johan van Veen




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