BARGAIN OF THE MONTH
Endechar : Lament for Spain - Sephardic Romances and Songs
Hija mía mi querida
Esta montaña d’enfrente
Una matica de ruda
Muerte que a todos convidas
¿Por qué llorax blanca niña?
Cuatro años d’amor
Ya crecen las hierbas
Paxaro de hermosura
En la mar hay una torre
Calvi arabi - Kol libi -Rey don Alfonso
Durme, durme hermozo hijico
Avrix mi galanica
El rey Nimrod
Capilla Antigua de Chincilla: Luisa Measso (mezzo), Juan Francisco Sanz (counter-tenor, nackers), José Ferrero (tenor, medieval harp, psaltery, simphonie)
Alfonso Sáezflutes, shawm, zurna, gemshorn), Juan Michael Rubio (viol, rabel, rebec, oud, citole), Miguel Ángel Orero (crotalum, bendir, darbuka, drums, riq, santur, tenor flute, pitcher, nackers)/José Ferrero
rec. 16-20 July 2009, Iglesia de San Antón, Chinchilla de Montearagón, Albacete, Spain
sung texts and translations available online.
NAXOS 8.572443 [57:31]
There is a wonderful observation by G.K. Chesterton, in an essay called ‘The Romance of Rhyme’ which sums up perfectly those simultaneous impulses to lament and celebrate which lie at the heart of so much in the arts: “All poems might be bound in one book under the title of ‘Paradise Lost’. And the only object of writing ‘Paradise Lost’ is to turn it, if only by a magic and momentary illusion, into ‘Paradise Regained’”. The simultaneity of elegiac loss and the celebratory effort of reclamation though art is nowhere more evident than in the music of the Sephardic tradition. The music of the Sephardic Jews, partners in the Andalusian coexistence of three religious and cultural traditions (the others, of course, being Islam and Christianity) were finally expelled from Spain in 1492. As their exile took them to other parts of the Mediterranean world, they took with them, and then further developed, a tradition of song which seems shot through with the sense of loss and displacement but which is also self-affirming, also concerned to create in art and illusion (at least) of that which has been lost in ‘life’. That melancholy, that sense of pained nostalgia, characterises so much in the music of the Sephardic tradition, even in such modern guises as the work of the singer and world music star Yasmin Levy or the New York avant-garde jazz pianist Anthony Coleman on an album such as Sephardic Tinge (Tzadik, TZ 7102), on which, incidentally, Coleman improvises on ‘El rey Nimrod’, the last title on Endechar.
On the highly recommendable Endechar José Ferrero and his Capilla Antigua de Chinchilla have chosen to perform a selection of Sephardic songs full of the paradox of lamentation and artistic affirmation. ‘Endechar’ was a verb meaning to ‘mourn’, or ‘to sing a funeral dirge’ and endechas were dirges or laments. Only two of the songs performed here are, technically speaking, endechas, ‘Muerte que a todos convidas’ and ‘Ya crecen las hierbas’. But the imagery of loss (and its fitting music) is encountered almost everywhere. So in the romance ‘Este montaña d’enfrente’ the note of lament predominates: ‘Este montaña d’enfrente / S’aciende y va quemando / Alli pedri al mi amor / M’asento y vo llorando’ (This mountain before me / has caught fire and is burning / There it was I lost my love / now I sit down and weep’). In another romance, ‘Ven querida’, the protagonist states the reasons for his unhappiness: ‘Huérfano de padre y de madre / Yo no tengo onde arrimar’ (Orphaned of both father and mother / I have nowhere to take refuge). Even in a lullaby like ‘Nani, nani’ the mother sings of how the father will return, not from work, but from a new love. Loss and betrayal permeate almost everything - which is hardly surprising. But, the music is not, it should be stressed, merely depressing. At the same time that they move us with the sadness of their sentiments, the best of these songs also impress by what they have to say of the resilience of the human spirit and its capacity for beauty.
These performances are less highly coloured, less prone to treat the music as a kind of exotica, than some revivals of recent years have done. In part this is because Ferrero and his company have concentrated their attention on the western Mediterranean (chiefly Moroccan) Sephardic tradition, rather than on the developments of Sephardic music further east, under the stronger influence of Turkish and Greek models. There is a sense in which Arab influences on the Sefardis of Morocco merely continue that dialogue which had already happened in medieval Andalusia.
Ferrero’s interpretations are imaginative without being over sophisticated; using instruments from the Jewish, Christian and Arabic traditions (flutes were always associated with Jewish music of lament and are thus given prominence), as we know to have been done in Andalusia, allows for some pleasing tonal variety. Thus ‘En la mar hay una torre’ benefits from an attractive introduction played on the psaltery (played by the multi-talented Señor Ferrero) and elsewhere the oud and the medieval harp are deployed intelligently. All three of the singers have good things to offer. Luisa Maesso has a rich mezzo voice, and some of her work makes particularly effective use of some ‘moorish’ melismata. Countertenor Juan Francisco Sanz sings with an apt poignancy and Ferrero himself brings an air of authority to all that he does. The way in which several solo voices are used in most of the songs is particularly effective, giving a quasi-dramatic sense of dialogue to proceedings, in a way that brings out the emotional substance of these songs very well.
Captures the sadness and affirmation at the heart of Sephardic song