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The Book of Lovers- Ottoman Classical Music of the 15th-19th centuries
Lāmekan Ensemble (Rıdvan Aydınlı (vocals, ney); Ruben Tenenbaum (violin); Muhittin Kemal Temel (kanun); Simon Leleux (bendir, daire, darbuka); Robbe Kieckens (kudunm; riqq, daire))/Tristan Driessens (oud, conductor)
Derya Türkan (kemenēe); Murat Aydemir (tanbur); Burcu Karadag (ney); Serdar Bisiren; Yusuf Tarik Günaydin
rec. Istanbul and Paris, 2014 CYPRES CYP1677 [77:18 + 76:04]
This exploration of what for many of us will be terra incognita is presented in a three-way fold out digipack. This holds two discs - more than 2½ hours of music across 37 tracks. There's an 80-page booklet, the back page of which fits into a ribbon set into the digipack. The whole is gathered under the title: The Book of Lovers. The set is complemented by scholarly notes. Tristan Driessens, who founded the Lamekan Ensemble, is the mover and shaker behind this concept which is a successor to the same group's Garden of Fidelity recording issued in 2014 by the Turkish label M&MT Records.
The first disc brings out classical singing from the heyday of the Ottoman Empire. Here the leading figures are Meraghi, Cantemir and Ufki. The notes claim "Persian resonances and … an apparent bridge towards the European Renaissance". The second disc is said to reveal Istanbul’s historical place amid the great tradition of the makam (a set of rules for composing and performing) which charted its zenith to the 19th century. The figures celebrated here are Aga, Arif Bey and Cemil Bey.
Much of this set is taken up with the solo voice which has been closely recorded in a lively acoustic. Often the voice sounds out in ululation and drumming - a mystery invoked. Instrumentals are sitar-like - harplike sounds but with very short resonance. Other tracks chart a grand and courtly cortčge - a leisurely march. Some of these pieces are densely active with a sensuous dance. Time after time there is evidence of eloquent and thoughtful placing of instruments by the Cyprčs engineers. Stereo effects and the illusion of front-to-back depth are very well executed.
The booklet essay is by Kudsi Erguner, ney grandmaster and musicologist. It is in French, English and Turkish. The words of the sung segments are printed side by side in the same three languages.
CPO and Naxos have opened the doorway to Turkish concert music from the 1910 onwards but these older Ottoman traditions have been hidden away except to specialists. This set, which reflects traditions and sounds largely uncontaminated by mainstream European concert music, is unusual. If your Western traditional tastes ache for some iconoclasm then try this luxuriously appointed set.
Abdülkadir MERAGHI (†1435); Dimitrie CANTEMIR (1673-1723); Ali UFKI (1610-1675), Numan AGA (1750-1834), Haci Arif BEY (1831-1885); Tanburī Cemil BEY (1871-1916)