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GRAMOPHONE (09/2016)
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Alia Vox 

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Reviewer: Edward Breen

The indefatigable Jordi Savall continues to unite musicians from East and West as he traverses five centuries of musical traditions in Granada, a city he describes as ‘one of the most important and admired cities in Muslim Andalusia’. The majority of performances on this new album were recorded live in 2013 at a concert in the Alhambra Palace to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of Granada’s foundation. Arranged in chronological order from the foundation of Granada in the Zirid period to the Castilian rule when Muslims were forced to convert to Catholicism, the programme begins with rejoicing – the invocation qamti be-Ishon Layla (Song of Songs) – and ends with an Andalusian lament Maqam hijaz (Ibn Zaydun) sung by Lior Elmaleh. The celebration of musical interconnectedness is manifest in the smoothness of Savall’s programme and its execution. Take, for instance, the sonorous choral Preces: Penitentes orate, an 11th century Mozarabic prayer smoothly sung by La Capella Reial de Catalunya. This is Christian prayer under Islamic rule. Yet as El Cid conquers Valencia, so Savall’s improvisatory introduction to a Ductia (Cantigas de Santa Maria) provides the perfect segue – a teardrop gesture gradually gaining dance rhythms – into a wonderful array of instrumental colour.

 Laments remind us that despite moments of peaceful coexistence, the struggle for lasting peace is ongoing. Heart-rending moments of beauty abound such as Manuel Forcano’s (director, Institute Ramon Llull) recitation concerning the forced conversion of the Jews in 1148. Again this is framed by dance – a Morisque – only to be followed by a lament on the death of King Sancho III of Castile, Plange Castella misera, movingly sung by Marc Mauillon. Towards the end of the programme Savall returns to the joyful Villancico Viva el Gran Re Don Fernando previously featured on his ‘Dinastia Borgia’ album (Alia Vox, 2/11). He retains the grandiose opening instrumental verse, but this Granada performance is statelier, with lightly etched rhythms. It lacks the hysterical element of David Munrow’s classic 1972 HMV release ‘Music for Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain’ (Testament, 5/73) invoking instead a courtly, cautious rejoicing.

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