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GRAMOPHONE (11/2011)
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Reviewer: Ivan Moody

Savall opens a musical dialogue between Japan and Spain In many ways a sequel to ‘Road to the Orient’ (1/08), tracing the travels of St Francis Xavier, this delicately beautiful recording brings together Savall and other members of Hespèrion XXI and the Capella Reial de Catalunya with Japanese musicians whom he met on the occasion of the earlier recording. It is released in benefit of the Japanese Red Cross, following the recent disasters in Japan.

This kind of crossover recording is very often unsuccessful because two groups of musicians are recorded talking – or playing – past each other, with little or no genuine interaction. That is not the case here, however; the mixture of western monophony and polyphony with some profoundly beautiful improvisations on them by the Japanese musicians is illuminating and unexpectedly rewarding. They grasp the modal structure of the chant O gloriosa domina, for example, and absorb it into their own performance tradition, on their various instruments, so that both are clearly audible. This means also that the Western variations upon the theme, by Narváez and Henestrosa and the vihuela player Xavier Díaz-Latorre, seem part of this exotic but seamless flow.

The Marian theme is continued with the Portuguese Senhora del mundo (a ravishing performance by Montserrat Figueras which includes sarod and tablas) and a pentatonic Chinese Ave Maria which, though lovely, is in fact the piece that stands out quite obviously from all others here; but the real connection throughout is the extraordinary beauty and mutual understanding on the part of the musicians, from both East and West, in this sumptuous, beautifully recorded disc.

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