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Latino ladino: Songs of Exile and Passion from Spain and Latin America
Yaniv d’Or (countertenor)
Ensemble NAYA, Barrocade/Amit Tiefenbrunn
rec. 2015; Saint Remigius Church, Franc-Waret, Belgium.
Texts and translations not included, but accessible at the Naxos website
NAXOS 8.573566 [67:09]
Yaniv d’Or (countertenor)
Ensemble NAYA
rec. 2018; Saint Remigius Church, Franc-Waret, Belgium.
Texts and translations not included, but accessible at the Naxos website
NAXOS 8.573980 [70:22]

The countertenor Yaniv d’Or has sung a good number of operatic roles across Europe – and beyond. These have included the Sorceress in Dido and Aeneas, both Nerone and Ottone in L’incoronazione di Poppea, Medoro in Handel’s Orlando, Orfeo in Glück’s Orfeo ed Euridice, La Verita in Vivaldi’s Cimento and Artemis in Henze’s Phaedra. He las also recorded a CD (Thoughts Observed) of songs by Schumann (Dichterliebe), Duparc, Hahn, Debussy and Poulenc, with pianist Dan Deutsch, reviewed by Göran Forsling on this site. Yet one suspects that the singer’s heart (and perhaps his mind!) is most completely engaged when he sings the music of his ancestral legacy, as on these two CDs.

Yaniv d’Or’s ancestral origins are Sephardic, among, that is the Jews expelled from Spain in 1492. After the expulsion his ancestors found their way to Libya, where his grandparents still lived. They moved to the newly founded Israel in 1948. The singer himself was born (as Yaniv Nehasi) at Holon in Israel. After studies at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, he became a student at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Dance.

The Jews expelled in 1492 lost not only their homes and homeland; culturally speaking, they also lost a vital role in the extraordinary pluralistic culture of Andalusia (and some other parts of Spain) in which there was a symbiotic relationship between the Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions. (The Muslims – the moors – were, of course, also expelled at the same time). There is a beautiful book, which ought to be better known, by the late Mariá Rosa Menocal, The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain (2002) which provides a learned, but immensely readable account, of the creative interaction of the three religions, and of their literatures, arts and musics, in Andalusia. Menocal is also one of the three authors, along with Jerrilynn D. Dodds and Abigal Krasner Balbale, of another book, concerned with a similar phenomenon in another part of Spain. This is The Arts of Intimacy: Christians, Jews, and Muslims in The Making of Castilian Culture (2008). A reading of either (or both!) casts much light on Yaniv d’Or’s concerns in these two CDS and the earlier Liquefacta est (also on Naxos) which contains settings of The Song of Solomon.

What is attempted in these three CDs, usefully seen/heard as a trilogy, is a kind of re-creation, in recorded form, of the kind of synthesis and fruitful dialogue between traditions we now tend to think of as disparate, but which existed, for some years, in great cities such as Cordoba and Toledo, under enlightened rulers – as it did elsewhere, such as in Palermo under the Norman King Roger, another enlightened ruler (I found it quietly moving when in Palermo last year to see, in some of the oldest parts of that fascinating city, street signs giving names in Hebrew, Arabic and Sicilian Italian). Such places and times of conviviencia (‘co-existence’, though the reality, at its best, was more creatively vigorous than the English translation suggests) are hard to find in our contemporary world. But art can do something to re-create them, or at least to create artistic emblems of such states of being. One thinks, for example, of Daniel Barenboim and his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra which is, not coincidentally, based in Andalusia (in Seville). This series of CDs by Yaniv d’Or seeks to do something similar, but by different means.

The syncretic nature of the music on these CDs is evident in an almost paradigmatic form in ‘Exaltation’, the first (and title-) track on Exaltation. d’Or is credited as composer of this track, with Ensemble NAYA being responsible for the ‘arrangement’ (the piece is clearly based in traditional religious chants / prayer rhythms. Its text amounts to three short passages: one each in Hebrew, Arabic and Latin. The words that begin ‘Exaltation’ are from an important Jewish prayer “Shema Israel Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Ehad” – “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord”, as the words are translated in the King James Bible; the Arabic text is “Allah hu” – literally ‘God is’ and most familiar as part of the affirmation “Allah hu akbar” – ‘God is greater’; the final text is taken from the Latin translation of Psalm 88, “misericordias domini in aeternum cantabo” – ‘o Lord God of my Salvation, I have cried day and night before you’ (to quote, again, the translation in the King James Bible). In this performance by Yaniv d’Or and the Naya Ensemble the three texts, with their different, if related, origins are given a musical coherence and unity which transcend any expected divisions.

A different, but equally striking example of the kind of cultural ‘polyphony’ which is central to Menocal’s The Ornament of the World, and which d’Or and his collaborators, it seems to me, are seeking to re-enact occurs in track 9 of Exaltation: the well-known Sephardic song ‘La mañana de San Juan’. The significance of the song, from this point of view, is succinctly explained by Richard Jones, who provides excellent notes to both these albums – “It is sung in Ladino, the language of the Sephardi (a mix of Spanish and Hebrew), but depicts Moorish youths celebrating with a joust on a Christian feast day”.

Elsewhere this ‘cultural polyphony’ exists between tracks rather than within an individual track, as these two albums mix music drawn from a considerable range of times and places. So, for example, on Latino Ladino, ‘El Rey de Francia’, a traditional ladino song, preserved in Sephardic communities in both Spain and France, and a “coarse anecdote” set by Gaspar Sanz frame Albeniz’ gorgeously nostalgic ‘Asturias’ from Chants d’Espagne; or, on Exaltation, two traditional Sephardic songs, ‘A la nana y la buba’ (a beautiful, yet vulnerable, lullaby) and ‘La mañana de San Juan’ are heard either side of Frescobaldi’s ‘Se l’aura spira tutta vezzosa’.

Add to the range of musical material the range of instruments utilized on the albums – which include both classical and flamenco guitar, the violas da gamba and theorbo, plus the rather less expected ney, didgeidoo, shofar and psalterium – and the sense of cultural mix transcending divisions of time and space can seem almost dizzying. Some, I dare say, may be irritated by this, but I find it exhilarating, expressive both of the conviviencia of medieval Spain and the effects of the edicts of 1492 (as well as later, similar events). The presence of Turkish Sufic material on Exaltation – e.g. ‘Demedin Mi’ and ‘Aşkin ile aşiklar’ – alongside Sephardic material, recognizes the similar fates of Spanish Jews and Moors while also recreating the close contact between the two traditions in Andalucia.

The Jewish contribution to the European classical tradition (enormous, of course, see, for example, Lewis Stevens, Composers of Classical Music of Jewish Descent, 2003), is here marked by the presence of work by Salamone Rossi, the Mantuan Jewish composer who, as well as madrigals and trio sonatas, also published a collection of more 30 settings of Hebrew hymns, psalms and synagogal songs (Ha-shirim asher li-Shlomo, Venice 1623). Interestingly, Richard Jones tells us that Yaniv d’Or sang the role of Rossi in a modern pasticcio opera – The Siblings of Mantua – at Drottningholm in 2018. (The title refers to the composer and his sister, the famous singer Madama Europa; the historical brother and sister seem both to have been killed in 1630, when the Gonzaga rulers of Mantua were defeated by the troops of the Holy Roman Empire and the soldiers of the Imperial army sacked the city’s Jewish quarter).

Yaniv d’Or’s choice of repertoire is consistently enterprising and thought-provoking. His choice of Renaissance / baroque pieces is by no means merely familiar or predictable. Yes, Monteverdi (a friend of Salomone Rossi) and Frescobaldi are familiar, canonical composers. But how many are familiar with the work of Jean-Baptiste Besard? Probably only those with a special interest in the lute and its repertoire – Besard was a lutenist and composer, who also practiced both medicine and law. His Thesaurus harmonicus (Cologne, 1603) is a significant anthology of more than 400 compositions and arrangements for lute. Nor is Vincenzo Calestani a household name. Indeed, only one volume of his music is known, Madrigali et arie… parte primo (Venice, 1617). D’Or has wide-ranging, but discriminating tastes, finding house-room, as it were, for Monteverdi and Albeniz, a song by the Chilean Violeta Para, Sephardic traditional songs and much else.

Right across the range of this music, Yaniv d’Or displays a voice of striking variety and wide-ranging timbre; he can sound smooth, even honeyed, at times; or, elsewhere, bright and crystalline. At all times he is fully engaged and richly communicative; his vibrato is often wide – which will disturb many a purist. But he and his ensemble are not concerned with historical ‘authenticity’ (hardly, given the presence of the didgeridoo!). Their authenticity is to do with emotional truth, with utter fidelity to the ‘meaning’ of the music. Given the instrumentation used, and the range of repertoire performed, it would be absurd to expect fidelity to the parameters of historically informed performance. Here ‘authenticity’ means fidelity to the emotional (and to a degree the moral and political) significance of word and music. Those who dislike Yaniv d’Or’s vibrato will probably dislike even more the fact that on ‘Yemei Horpi’ (Exaltation) he is multi-tracked to form a three-voice chorus. And some potential listeners will perhaps be uneasy to learn that the arrangement of this lovely song is by Shem Tov Levi, a singer, pianist and flautist who came to prominence with an Israeli progressive rock band, Ketzat Aheret. But there is no necessity for such unease or suspicion, it works very well! So does pretty well everything on these two excellent albums. If forced to choose between them (though at Naxos prices the two can be bought very reasonably), I’d probably settle for Exaltation, if only because I particularly like the way in which the Turkish material (tracks 6, 19 & 14) is performed, both vocally and instrumentally.

For all that I have stressed the social-political vison underlying these two albums, let no one imagine, please, that they are ever in any danger of being over-earnest. Joy permeates them, the joy of survival and affirmation and they are full of infectious rhythms – Latino Ladino was playing when some friends arrived, with their five-year-old daughter. I politely switched off the music, at which point the little girl said she wanted to hear more of it; she then danced around the room for the next half hour.

In a world in which the President of the USA is obsessed by the desire to build a wall to keep out Mexicans, and the Chinese are actively suppressing the cultural identity of the Turkic Uighur Muslims, albums such as these, which celebrate a time and a place where tolerance was more important and real and which do something to recreate such a spirit are both needful and uplifting.

Glyn Pursglove 
Latino Ladino
Shalom Aleichem [7:47]
2.Francisco ESCALADA (fl. C.1677)
Canten dos jilgerillos [2:01]
A la una yo nací [2:52]
Avre tu Puerta cerrda [3:18]
Axerico de quinze años [3:25]
6. Étienne MOULINIÉ (1599-1676)
Rio de Seville [3:33]
7. Gaspar SANZ (1640-1710)
Canarios [2:41]
8. Yaniv d’Or (b. 1975)
La soledad de la nochada [3:46]
Morikos [2:15]
Hija mia [2:47]
11.Biagio MARINI (1594-1663)
Passacaglia in G minor [3:07]
El rey de Francia [6:48]
13.Isaac ALBENIZ (1860-1909)
Asturias [6:22]
14.Gaspar SANZ (1640-1710)
Marizapalos [5:43]
Los guisados de la berenjena [3:54]
16.Violetta PARRA (1917-67)
Gracias a la vida [4:13]
17. Vincenzo CALESTANI (1589-1617)
Damigella tutta bella [2:37]

1.Yaniv d’Or (b. 1975) (arr. Ensemble Naya)
Exaltation [5:17]
2.ALFONSO X ‘The Wise’ (1221-84)
Rosa das Rosas [2:57]
3.Jean-Baptiste BESARD (1567-1625)
Ma belle, si ton âme [3:43]
4.Salamone ROSSI (1570-1630)
Barechu [2:12]
5.TRADITIONAl, Sephardi
El nora alia [3:10]
Demedim Mi [6:43]
7.TRADITIONAl, Sephardi
A la nana y a la buba [2:27]
8.Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643)]
Se l’aura spira tutta vezzosa [2:36]
9.TRADITIONAl, Sephardi
La mañana de San Juan [4:00]
Aşkin ile aşiklar [4:38]
11.TRADITIONAl, Sephardi
Ya viene al cativo [5:37]
12.TRADITIONAL, Bosnian (arr. Shem-Tov Levi)
Yemei Horpi [5:19]
13. ANONYMOUS Alicanti lullaby (1700)
Mareta, mareta no’m faces plorar [5:22]
14. TRADITIONAL, Ottoman Turkey (18th Century)
Üsküdara Gideriken – Kâtibim [4:38]
Lamma bada [4:38]
16. Manuel DE FALLA (1876-1946]
Nana (1914) [7:13]

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