CD Reviews DJ Koze Presents Pampa Vol. 1; Adnan Othman’s Bershukor; two albums called Sephardic Journey
Sephardic Journey: Wanderings of the Spanish Jews (Avie) Between the New Mexico History Museum’s exhibition Fractured Faiths and the Santa Fe Desert Chorale’s musical program Sephardic Legacy, the summer is awash in the heritage of the Sephardim, descended from the Jews who lived on the Iberian Peninsula prior to their expulsion in the late 15th century. Two recent, similarly titled CDs add to the Sephardic discography. Sephardic Journey: Wanderings of the Spanish Jews is the latest recorded delight from the Cleveland-based Apollo’s Fire Baroque Orchestra. The group is joined by its choral complement, Apollo’s Singers, and several vocal soloists, all directed by harpsichordist Jeannette Sorrell with assistance for this project from Nell Snaidas, a noted specialist in this repertoire. Listeners have grown to expect not only high performance standards from this ensemble but also compelling programming, both of which are delivered here. The repertoire is arranged in thematic groups of songs — concerning Jerusalem, relating to the temple, about love and romance, for the Sabbath, and for feasts and celebrations. Many of the 20 tracks are arrangements of traditional songs, interpreted either with ineffable melancholy or with a rhythmic flair we are likely to associate with the Middle East. Accompaniments include such regional instruments as the oud, and the pieces are sometimes linked through instrumental modulations that yield a free-flowing sense of connectivity. Six of the tracks feature art music, instrumental as well as vocal, composed by Salamone Rossi, the most prominent Jewish composer of the early Baroque, who provided a jump-start to synagogue music after 1500 years of neglect. Here Apollo’s Fire is on native territory, with three of his lavish settings from the Songs of Solomon, published in 1623, sounding very much like Monteverdi (one of the ensemble’s specialties), as in his vibrant polychoral Halleluyah. ‘Ashrei ‘Ish (Psalm 112). — James M. Keller
CAVATINA DUO Sephardic Journey (Çedille) Many Sephardic melodies tug at the heartstrings, their modal contours being imbued with nostalgia and even mournfulness that we may hear as suggesting the diaspora through which they were spread beyond the confines of Iberia. The Cavatina Duo, comprising flutist Eugenia Moliner and guitarist Denis Azabagic, invited five modern composers to give some of the songs new life in the concert hall by writing chamber works for them to play alone or with colleagues (here violinist Desirée Ruhstrat, cellist David Cunliffe, and the Avalon String Quartet, depending on the piece). Their Sephardic Journey includes works by Alan Thomas, Joseph V. Williams, Carlos Rafael Rivera, David Leisner, and Clarice Assad (both of the latter employing string quartet in their orchestration). Leisner’s atmospheric Love Dreams of the Exile draws one back for repeated listening; the sighing microtones of its first movement, a meditation on the song “Yo bolí,” add a layer of deep resignation within the calmly flowing figuration that surrounds them. Assad’s “Sephardic Suite,” conceived as a kind of musical story telling, is full of contrast and incident, tracing a vague but energized narrative about a young woman who loses her innocence, lets go of an old infatuation, and gets involved in a new one. — J.M.K.