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Venezia Millenaria (Venice 700-1797)
Hanna Bayodi-Hirt (soprano)
Furio Zanasi (baritone)
Luis Vilamajó (tenor)
Lior Elmaleh
Haïg Sarikouyoumdjian
Le Concert des Nations
Hespèrion XXI
La Capella Reial de Catalunya
Ensemble Panagiotis Neochoritis/Jordi Savall
rec. live Abbaye de Fontfroide, 16 July, Kollegienkirche, Salzburg, 26 July, and Tivoli Vredenburg, Utrecht, 2 October 2016. DSD.
2 SACDs in hardback book.
ALIA VOX AVSA9925 SACD [77:00 + 79:00]

Every time I review one of Jordi Savall’s glossy new releases I seem to make it a Recording of the Month. Why break the habit? This is another dazzling collection of jewels from him: music, literature, history, scholarship and art, all presented with the highest artistic integrity in a beautiful package. Yet again, it is a cultural festival between two covers.

As his recent Granada disc showed, Savall is particularly interested in cultural crossroads, and Venice is the perfect place to explore that. When you consider the axis of North/South and East/West, Venice is pretty much the centre of Europe, and its savvy authorities used that location to put it in prime position for trade and influence throughout its millennium of history that this release explores. Its close links with the Byzantines are well known, as are its links with Western Europe, and it was both the enemy of the Ottoman Turks as well as their trading partner. Consequently, Savall draws upon this rich history to explore the musical and cultural melting pot of La Serenissima, and the results are sometimes quixotic but often revelatory.

The music is chosen and themed largely around chronological bookmarks in city’s story, all of which are spelt out by date in the track list on the back cover (and below). Some of it is taken from the several areas which Venice either colonised or contracted with such as a Berber dance or an Armenian song. A Cypriot Dance commemorates Venice’s conquest of the island in 1581.

There are also celebrations of key moments in the city’s history, such as the construction of San Marco or the return of Marco Polo, commemorated in an irresistible dance. An Ottoman march commemorates fall of Constantinople in 1452, and a buoyant Turkish instrumental commemorates Sultan Selim’s seizure of Venetian ships in 1570. A madrigal celebrating the vital naval victory at Lepanto in 1571 is beautifully sung and also given a delightfully saucy instrumental accompaniment, while a bouncy Ottoman dance commemorates Venice’s fight against the Turks in the Peloponnesian War of 1684.

The city's own remarkable cultural diversity is represented regularly. A poignant Hebrew chant from the Song of Songs illustrates the foundation of the first synagogue in the ghetto in 1526. (Venice was the first city to establish a ghetto for its Jews though, ironically, it was set up as a gesture to protect them from gentile persecution rather than to discriminate against its Jewish population.) A Lutheran hymn represents German Protestant refugees who settled there, and the Greek church at Castello is commemorated with a melismatic Orthodox chant.

We also get a sense of Venice’s role as a theatre of cultural convergence. For example, we hear Guillaume DuFay’s moving lament for the church of Constantinople. He was one of the composers who fell under the city’s influence, and it’s fascinating to hear his very north-European musical language tempered by the Mediterranean musical language for which he was writing at the time. It’s hauntingly performed here. Jannequin’s Bataille de Marignan celebrates the joint Franco-Venetian adventure of 1515 that enabled Venice to keep control over several of its territories on the terra firma. It's a brilliantly exciting piece to listen to, and also well-chosen to illustrate the extent of Venice’s cultural reach: Jannequin, after all, lived and worked at the Chapel Royal in Paris, not Venice itself. Likewise, a perky song from Dutchman Adrian Willaert is included to commemorate his installation as the head of music at St Mark’s in 1527. Willaert serves as another example of Venice’s willingness to adopt the outsider: many of its greatest cultural sons, like Monteverdi or Titian, were born elsewhere.

Venice's greatest musical employees are given their due, of course. It's a shame we didn't get more of their music for St Mark’s, though. Andrea Gabrieli is represented by a string Ricercar, while we get Monteverdi’s famous Combattimento: if both are well done then neither is essential. We get a widow into a more unusual corner of Vivaldi’s output with a cantata that he wrote for the French ambassador to Venice from the court of Louis XV, and the young Mozart’s 1771 visit is marked with Savall’s own (hyper-Turkified) arrangement of the famous Rondo Alla Turca. The final selection goes rather off-piste, with two choral arrangements of Beethoven symphonies, but by then I was so sold on the project that I could forgive them.

So the collection of music on offer here is eclectic, diverse and beautifully curated; and you could say the same about the performances. The better known music skips along with brightness and clarity, but what really made me take notice was the performances of the earlier or non-Western music. The Byzantine or Orthodox influenced vocal music especially – such as the chant for the construction of St Mark’s (CD1, track 2) or the lament for the sack of Constantinople (CD1, track 6) – is strange, distant and unfamiliar, but it’s also remarkably compelling. As you listen, a whole lost universe takes shape before your ears and the centuries fall away in the sense of mystery and discovery.

It helps that, in addition to his regular bands, and with a typical nose for diversity, Savall also uses guest musicians from the parts of the Orient he evokes, a process he describes in detail on page 60 of the booklet. It, therefore, feels like you are being given an insight by experts in their fields, and it adds to the project’s sense of diversity and cultural generosity.

Typically for one of Savall’s concept albums, the presentation is immaculate. The essays - five of them, each produced in six languages - are dazzling, both in terms of scholarly content (good old John Julius Norwich turns up for one of them) and accessibility. The pictures include photos of the original concert performances and reproductions of many art works from the city, and they make this a cherishable thing altogether: an object to hold and marvel at rather than just music to listen to.

So this is yet another astounding achievement, worthy of every accolade. Buy it and marvel at it.

Simon Thompson

Previous review: Brian Wilson

Disc 1 (700-1571)
Fanfare (Instrumental, after CVIII melody) [1:11]
Ioannis DAMASKINOS (CVIII) Alléluia (Byzantine choral) [5:26]
Halatzoglou kratema (Byzantine instrumental) [1:45]
MARCABRU (1100-1150) Crusade song: Pax in nomine Domini [2:55]
Danse de l’âme (North African Instrumental – Berber traditional) [2:44]
Traditional: Matins Hymn [6:50]
Traditional: Armenian song and dance (CXIII) [2:35]
Traditional ConductusO totus Asie Gloria, Regis Alexandria Filia (CXIII) [2:19]
Anonymous Istampitta: Saltarello (CXIV MS) [2:25]
Ioannis DAMASKINOS Pásan tin elpida mu [4:35]
Chiave, chiave (Instrumental – early CXV) [1:20]
Adoramus te (CXV Songbook) [2:57]
Hirmos Calophonique : Tin Déisin mu (CXV Troparion) [5:26]
Ottoman March: Nikriz peşrev – Ali Ufki Bey [2:08]
Guillaume DUFAY (1397-1474) Lamentio Sanctæ Matris Ecclesiæ Constantinopolitanæ [7:42]
Clément JANEQUIN (1485-1558) La Guerre : La Bataille de Marignan [7:21]
Traditional: Song of Songs (3,1-4): Qamti be-Ishon Layla [3:20]
Adrian WILLAERT (1490-1562) Villanesca alla napolitana : Vecchie letrose [2:46]
Dimitrie CANTOMIR (1673-1723) Ottoman instrumental: Der makām-ı Uzzäl Sakîl [4:21]
Joan BRUDIEU (1520-1591) Madrigal: Oíd, oíd... (... las buenas nuevas de Lepanto) [6:02]

Disc 2 (1571-1797)
Claude GOUDIMEL (c1520-1572) Psaumes de DavidFicht wider meine Anfechter (Psalm 35) [2:13]
Ioannes KLADAS (late CXIV-CXV) Géfsasthe ke idete [4:30]
Traditional Sousta (Instrumental – Cypriot dance) [1:58]
Andrea GABRIELI (1532-1585) Ricercar VII [2:35]
Michael CHATZIATHANASIOU Slavic Eucharistic Hymn [2:22]
Anonymous Laïla Djân (Instrumental – Persian dance) [2:34]
Salomone ROSSI (c.1570-1630) Psalm 137, (1-6): ’Al nàhärót bavél [3:34]
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643) Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, SV153 [16:51]
Johann ROSENMÜLLER (1619-1684) Sinfonia Seconda [4:14]
Ottoman march: Der Makām-i-Rehavi Çember-i-Koca [3:05]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741) La Senna festeggiante, RV693: Di queste selve venite, o Numi [4:12]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) (arr. J Savall) Piano Sonata No.11 in F, K331: Alla turca (Allegretto) [4:09]
Anonymous Deo gratias (Russian orthodox Hymn, CXVI) [7:26]
Traditional Constitutional song: Nous sommes tous égaux [2:40]
Johann Adolph HASSE (1699-1783) Canzonette veneziane da battello. Raccolta di gondoliere: Per quel bel viso [3:43]
Canzonette veneziane da battello. Raccolta di gondoliere: Mia cara Anzoletta [2:50]
Luigi BORDESE (1815-1886) La Sainte Ligue : La nuit est sombreVengeons la grande ombre) (After BEETHOVEN Symphonies Nos. 5 and 7) [9:41]