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MusicWeb International
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Rob Barnett
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John Quinn
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Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
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   Len Mullenger


Discs for review may be sent to:
Jonathan Woolf
76 Lushes Road
Essex IG10 3QB
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alternatively Crotchet  

Abdul Salam KHEIR

Alfonso FERNANDES (fl. 16th century)
Tres moricas m’enamoran en Jaen
Diego PSADOR (1509–1557)
La manana de San Juan
Hatim ibn SAID
Burning Embers

Enriques de VALDERRABANO (fl. 16th century) Para discantar
Lisan al-Din ibn AL_KHATIB

Rainfall in Andalusia

Luis MILAN (c.1500–1561)
Romance de Moriana
Joan Ambrosio DALZA (fl. 1508)
Calata Spagnola
Francisco SALINAS

Luis de NARVAEZ (fl. 1530–1550)
Passeavase el rey moro

IBN-ZUHR (1091–1161)
Blind to the Moonlight

Por Antequera suspira;
Zaranil mahboub;
Tres morillas m’enamoran en Jaen; Al alva verid, buen arrigo
Catherine Bott (soprano)
David Miller (vihuela, lute, guitar)
Abdul Salam Kheir (Oud, vocals)
Stephen Henderson (tar, tablah, tbilat, douf)
rec. Angel Studios, June 2006

Art Gallery owner Fred Mann has started his own record label, to complement the works in his gallery. The first release on his new Fred Label are typically eclectic, crossing the boundaries between popular and serious cultures. So it is perhaps appropriate that one of these discs, Catherine Bott’s Convivencia, is itself about crossing boundaries between cultures.

Always a Hispanophile, Bott’s latest recital explores the way that Spanish Moors, Christians and Jews managed to live together harmoniously. This is the meaning of the word Convivencia. Though we tend to associate Spain with the later intolerance of the Inquisition, this disc is about that other, more tolerant Spain where different faiths managed to jog along together and influence each other.

In order to convey the way the Moorish patterns of music are interwoven into the music of medieval Spain, Bott has gathered together a group of musicians which includes those of both Western and Arabic training. Bott herself provides her usual expressively mellifluous soprano, David Miller plays a variety of fretted instruments (Vihuela, Lute and Guitar), Stephen Henderson plays percussion (Tar Tablah Tbilat and Douf) and Abdul Salam Kheir plays oud and contributes his own distinctively Middle-Eastern trained voice.

The CD booklet does not identify exactly who is playing on what, though we can make an educated guess. Most of the tracks on the disc use a restrained selection from the available singers and players and only towards the end do all four come together in a wonderfully infectious knees-up – a mouwashah called Zaranil mahboub on which Bott sings backing vocals in Arabic to Kheir’s lead vocals.

The disc opens with Kheir performing one of his own compositions, where he has written the words and the music. Bott follows this with a 16th century song, a courtly version of a folk-song which makes its appearance towards the end of the recital. In this song, Bott is accompanied by David Miller. These lute accompanied songs are the back-bone of the disc, but Bott even dares some unaccompanied singing to great effect. The songs may be Spanish, but the subject matter is often Moorish.

Bott also simply reads some of the poems to instrumental accompaniment, including a haunting poem by Ibn-Zuhr, a poet from Seville who died in 1200. For this poem,  Bott uses a lovely translation by Jason Webster.

I have already mentioned Zaranil mahboub, the tradition Moorish mouwashah. There are two of these on the disc, the first performed just by Zheir. Both are wonderfully infectious.

Sensibly, Bott does not end on the lively high note of Zaranil mahboub. She follows it with two final songs to lute accompaniment, first the original folk-song on which the second track is based and then finally an alva, or dawn song. The song is in Spanish, but alva is an arabic word, surely an apt example of the sort of mix and match which this disc is exploring.

As ever Catherine Bott is a wonderfully communicative performer. Her Spanish sounds, to these ears at least, very idiomatic and, more importantly, she allows herself to tell a story. The results are infectious and vivid.

The other performers all sound relaxed and accompany Bott well. I suspect that they had an enjoyable time making this disc. At least the performances have the feel of musicians relaxing and enjoying themselves, allowing this to communicate their enthusiasm to us.

A couple of minor quibbles. At 60 minutes running time, I would rather have liked a couple of extra items on the disc. And the text in the CD booklet is so stylishly small, that it sends you running for your reading glasses.

Do buy this disc – it wears its scholarship lightly. Whilst many of the pieces have probably cropped up elsewhere on disc, here Bott and her merry band shine new light and make new connections. 

Robert Hugill


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