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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



A Tierras Ajenas: Tunes and Tales from Lost Lands
Esteban DAZA A Tierras Ajenas (In Foreign Lands) "El Parnasso" (1576)
Jewish Traditional Kyria Y'Fefiya
Traditional Sephardic En la mar hay una torre (At sea there is a tower)
Diego PISADOR La mañana de San Juan (The morning of St. John) "Libro de Musica" (1552)
Alonso MUDARA Claros y frescos rios (Rivers, clear and fresh) "Tres Libros de Musica" (1546)
Traditional Arabic from Lebanon Zaranil
Traditional Sephardic Nanita, nana
Improvisation after NARVAEZ Lament
Luys de NARVAEZ Paseavase el Rey Moro (The Moorish King was walking) "El Delfin de Musica" (1538)
Anon Las mas graciosa serrana (The most gracious shepherdess) "Cancioner de Palacio" (1505-1520)
Enriquez de VALDERRAVANO O que en la cumbre (Up at the summit) "Silvia de Sirenas" (1547)
CAPITAN Van y vienen las olas (The waves come and go) "Cancionero Casanatense" (c. 1620)
Luis MILAN Fantasia "El Maestro" (1536)
Anon Dadme albrizias (Rejoice) "Cancionero de Uppsala" (c. 1556)
Pedro ORDONEZ Ay, mudo soy (Oh, I am Mute) included in Daza's "El Parnasso"
Traditional Sephardic, found in Morocco Hija mia, mi querida (My daughter, my dear)
Anon Paguen mis ojos (My eyes shall pay) "Cancioner de Palacio" (1505-1520)
Alonson MUDARRA Gentil Caballero (Gentle Knight)
Anon Pues que no puedo olvidarte (Since I cannot forget you) "Cancionero de la Casa de Medinaceli" (c. 1569)
Jewish Traditional Turkish Melody
Traditional Arabic/Lebanon Lammabada
Robert Dowland Vuestros Ojos (Your eyes) "A Musical Banquet" (London 1610)
Clara Sanabras (Voice, Lute, Oud, Guitar, Vihuela)
William Carter (Lute, Guitar)
Abdul Salam Kheir (Voice and Oudh)
Rachel Podger (Violin)
Adrian Lee (Oud)
Rebecca Austen-Brown (Vielle Flute)
Harvey Brough (Voice, Psaltery)
Rachel Hamilton (Harp)
Michael Zolker (Drum, Shakers, Tambourine)
Recorded October 1999, St. Pancras Old Church, London
ZENOBIA ZEN402 [63.08]


AVAILABILITY 

www.zenobiarecords.com

This is an enterprising record by the young singer, Clara Sanabras. Born in Normandy, raised in Barcelona, studying at the Conservatori del Liceu, Barcelona and the Guildhall, School of Music, London, she has lived in London since the 1990s. A some time member of Kent Opera, she sings with the Harp Consort and numerous other early music groups. In 2002 Linn records released her disc of Irish Folksong with Lute accompaniment, 'The New Irish Girl'.

On this disc, recorded in 1999, she has surrounded herself with a talented group of musicians to explore the music of Spain. Performances of lute songs by 16th century Spanish composers, taken from sources printed in the 16th century, are interspersed with performances of traditional Jewish and Arabic music. This goes to show the way that the music of the various Iberian peoples intersected and overlapped in the performance of traditional narrative ballads.

As in a lot of traditional western music, some ballads were captured in print and issued in collections - in this case under the Catholic Kings, Ferdinand and Isabella. But other developments were going on. The Arabic oudh and its western development, the lute, were replaced in Spain by the vihuela - the instrument which developed into the guitar. And the vihuelistas (vihuela composers) of this period developed the traditional ballad into a fully developed art-song. Sanabras includes on the disc an item from each of the major vihuelistas alongside the traditional materials from which the art-songs sprang.

Clara Sanabras has a voice of enviable flexibility and resource. In repose, it is a pleasant mezzo-soprano. But she encompasses a wide range of styles on this recording, moving from the art-song to the distinctive styles of the Jewish and Sephardic traditional songs. She joins Abdul Salam Kheir in traditional Arabic numbers and manages the transition well. As her article in the booklet makes clear, her performances are intended to highlight the commonality between these styles, but I must commend Ms. Sanabras, all the same, for her versatility.

Listening to this disc makes me regret my complete lack of Spanish. Many of the songs are narrative, telling the tales from lost lands of the title. For some pieces, the texts seems to have come first; we know the poets but we do not know the composers who musicked the words. So, having to hear such vital performances through a veil of translation is a little frustrating. But Clara Sanabras dramatises them well, often changing her voice to suit the narrative.

The booklet is a little vague about the provenance of the traditional songs and I would have liked to have known more. This is one of those discs that wears its learning lightly, encouraging you to sit back and enjoy the music. All the songs are given in subtle performances which do not try to overstate these fragile creations. And Clara Sanabras is not afraid to sing some verses unaccompanied, a very welcome touch. Quite a group of musicians are listed on the disc, but the songs are imaginatively and discreetly orchestrated so that you never feel overwhelmed. The musicians come from a variety of backgrounds, but the music-making never feels disparate. The various groupings cohere well and they sound as if they are having fun.

Violinist Rachel Podger appears on four tracks. In Jewish traditional song, 'Kyria Y'Feliya', she plays the melody line in a most effective manner and in 'Turkish Melody' provides a most effective accompaniment to the tune in Sanabras's Oudh. In the other two songs Podger adds a welcome obbligato. The traditional Sephardic song 'En la mar hay una torre' is given an interesting bipartite treatment. Initially Podger and Sanabras perform it in a very traditional folk manner, treating the song freely, adding generous grace notes. Sanabras follows this with a much more traditional art-song treatment, accompanied by Adrian Lee on Oudh. In 'Las mas graciosa serrama', the piece opens with just violin and drum, to be followed, most effectively, by Sanabras singing unaccompanied. Only then do all the musicians join together.

For three songs Sanabras is joined in duet by Harvey Brough. He does not sing with quite the same earthy timbre as Sanabras, but the diversion of two voices is welcome. In 'Dadme albrizas' the versatile Brough also doubles on the psaltery. The predominant theme of much of the poetry is exile and nostalgia for a lost homeland; not surprisingly since both the Moors and the Jews were expelled. But space has been found for a few more up-tempo numbers and Michael Zolker adds a welcome touch of percussion to some of the items. The two Arabic numbers are both toe-tappingly infectious, surprisingly so given their rather downbeat subject matter.

At the centre of all this activity is Sanabras singing a haunting group of songs to her own lute accompaniment. These are all 16th century art-songs - composed rather than arranged. Most of the songs have a melancholy cast and the text of one, 'Ay, mudo soy', is a sonnet by Pedro Ordonez, the English translation of which has remarkable echoes of the Elizabethan lute song ('Oh, I am mute, I cannot speak,/I die to speak of what I feel./Lady, if this wish were at least granted to me,/since I suffer at every moment;). The final song on the disc has a surprising English connection. It comes from Robert Dowland's 'A Musical Banquet’. Son of the more famous John Dowland, he collected together lute songs from all over Europe in this 1610 publication, so it is apposite to see the song being repatriated.

I cannot recommend this disc too highly. It provides a welcome window onto another tradition, a good complement to Elizabethan lute songs and folk songs. Winningly performed, it makes a fine starting point for exploring this lovely music.

Robert Hugill



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