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GRAMOPHONE (05/2022)
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Reviewer :
Edward Breen

Etymologists trace a late fourth-century transition from Jerusalem as the ‘city of peace’ to the ‘vision of peace’ (the term preferred by St Augustine). Likewise, this new programme takes its cue from the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi, who described Jerusalem as ‘the place where everything is music … and brothers and strangers are one’. With a musical span from 1200 to 1650, director Jeannette Sorrell reflects the traditions of three faith communities, writing: ‘Throughout history, Jewish, Muslim and Christian neighbours in Jerusalem have lived together, celebrating love and life, weddings and prayer.’ Her programme draws on their daily life, sacred and secular, organised into sections that explore each quarter of the ancient city.

Opening with the Sephardic chant Ir me kero, Madre, a Yerushalayim (‘I want to go to Jerusalem, mother’), Sorrel describes her accompaniments as ‘a kaleidoscopic soundscape intended to evoke the Middle East’. Early music groups have been doing this sort of thing since the 1970s but Apollo’s Fire are especially slick, and the call and response of soloist and chorus coupled with the depth of field in this live recording lends more than a hint of Hollywood epic to this joyful opening. To be sure, Apollo’s Fire are already known for their performances of Sephardic music (‘Sephardic Journey’, 8/16) but I particularly enjoyed the gripping immediacy of A la una yo nací (‘At one I was born’), which makes an enjoyable comparison with Yaniv d’Or’s tender performance (‘Latino Ladino’, Naxos, 8/16). In ‘The Jewish Quarter’, listen also for the mesmeric percussion in the table-grace song Tzur mischelo achalnu (‘The Lord our rock’). Similarly, in ‘The Arab & Armenian Quarters’, the percussion in the traditional dance Longha Farahfaza makes this recording shimmer. In the section ‘Mosque, Cathedral & Synagogue’, the positioning of the ‘Gloria Patri’ from Monteverdi’s Vespers is particularly prescient: intertwining chants run like a thread through this section.

In short, with this new album, Apollo’s Fire present a timely, sumptuous and refreshing vision of peace for 2022.

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