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American Record Guide, October 2006

This recording could be the response to a request for a multi-cultural course on medieval music with special attention to the Mediterranean basin. While the selected music, derived from both oral and written traditions, comes from Lebanon, Turkey, Italy, Spain, and Aquitania, it does not include any music of the Byzantine traditions. The only song in Greek is actually a polyglot mixture of Greek and Arabic. The most effective aspect of this recording is that it demonstrates the shared musical heritage of these very different cultures.

Superficially, the common musical characteristics are emphasized by the consistent use of what I call the Moroccan night -club band approach to medieval performance: a large band of instruments (including duduk, ud, zarb, and other traditional instruments from a variety of cultures) accompanying one to three singers. In addition, the performers add the ubiquitous drones and improvised polyphony that is currently fashionable in medieval performances. It is questionable whether this consistent performance style does justice to the unique aspects of these different cultures and musical styles, and it may also wear on the listener after a few tracks, but it allows closer attention to be paid to the melodies themselves, and I was surprised to hear the similarities between the songs of the Turkish Dervish poet, Yunus Emre, and the anonymous Italian laude from the Cortona manuscript.

The main menu is six laude, many unfortunately cut in these performances. Other songs (many also labeled "fragments") are taken from the Sephardic oral traditions, Andalusian folksong, a Latin dance-song from the Cat­alonian Llibre Vermell, and a 12th Century Hebrew song attributed to Obadiah the Proselyte. Original texts are supplied in the booklet, and translations for most of the pieces can be found on a website, but the single Hebrew song, 'Keh Moshe', is missing. Within this performance tradition, these are all imaginative interpretations, and except the laude and the song, 'Stella Splendens in Monte', most of these works are not available elsewhere. This is for someone who is curious about non-European medieval song.

Patrick Gary
MusicWeb International, October 2006

The music of the Mediterranean is among the most multinational of any region. This may have been even truer in the medieval period when Christian, Islamic and Jewish cultures all met for trade. Inevitably the cross-pollination extended into the realm of music, liturgical and secular; choral and instrumental. The resulting sounds are amazingly resonant, especially coming down to us from ages so far removed.

The album consists of selections of music from all three major religious groups of the period, though due to the performances it would be difficult to determine which tradition each individual piece is following. The goal is probably to show the commonality through musical traditions. At best this goal is accomplished. At worst, there is a lack of scholarship as to appropriate instrumentation for each individual song. “Laude novella” in particular is an Italian song that sounds as if it is from Syria.

On the other hand, the Islamic tracks are magnificent. It can be difficult to find early music from the Islamic traditions, and here we find three works from Turkey and one from southern Spain during Muslim rule. These selections are particularly engaging, and seem to have been the pieces that the musicians latched onto as their particular favorites. The recording quality is excellent. There is applause provided by an audience, but otherwise this would seem to be a studio recording. Each instrument is individually well recorded, and the mix is beautifully done. The performances display remarkable consistency and musicality.

The program notes are well researched and provide both a complete text for the listener and suitable background notes explaining the cross-pollination of musical traditions. In fact, they do a fairly commendable job of convincing the listener that all the music should be heavily tinged with the Islamic influences that it here displays. Given that instrumental accompaniments during the medieval period were all improvised, it is at least a valid viewpoint.

The only complaint about the selections would be that they are a bit unfocused. The fifteen tracks consist of music that spans three centuries from areas as diverse as southern Spain, Italy and Lebanon. Were either the time period or geographical region more tightly encapsulated this might be a perfect album for the music historian. For the casual fan of early music, this can still be highly recommended.

Jonathan Woolf
June 2006

From diverse source materials this disc explores the three great Mediterranean cultures of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries; Christianity, Judaism and Islam. As the notes remind us the three faiths co-existed to varying degrees throughout the period, from Andalusia to Byzantium. The selection here is representative of prayer and dance music of the time, fragmentary and notated, or otherwise preserved. For example the religious fraternity of Umbria known as the Laudesi wrote songs of praise, very few of which have survived. One such however preserves regional dialect (not Latin) and music and records seem to demonstrate that professional musicians accompanied the singers. Secular music seems to have thrived in pre-twelfth century Europe in a way that has hitherto been glossed over or disbelieved. The Red Book of Montserrat for example, an important collection of medieval music, shows that Catalonian life saw singing and dancing in devotional music in a way that later centuries might not have recognised. The poets and composers of such secular material were themselves invariably anonymous.

Few Jewish sources exist though one, one of only two pieces of extant notated Jewish medieval music, is recorded here (track 10 - Keh Moshe) and is a small though vital contribution to Sephardic life in this period. The Anatolian-born Yunus Emre was a Turkish-speaking poet and he represents the Sufic tradition with his popular poetry.

This disc derives from a concert given in Frankfurt. From the applause that greets the last piece it was recorded in front of a studio audience in the Grosse Sendesaal, Hessischer Rundfunk and possibly broadcast as well. It’s performed by the international musicians of the Oni Wytars Ensemble, well versed in performance of medieval and Renaissance music.

It’s difficult to correlate the exact extent of the editing, reconstruction and guesswork that must have gone into these performances. But the plausibility of the performances lies in their subsuming of the scholarly to the practical and in the living current of the performances, both joyous and reflective. The various traditions’s musics, whether intertwined or separate, is brought to life here. The Christian-Arabic traditions for instance are explored in the Kyrie eleison whilst elsewhere the strophic verses over increasingly varied instrumental accompaniment enliven the Fa mi cantar l'amor di la beata. Lyric laments contrasting with jubilatory stance in Plangiamo quel crudel basciare and solo melismas begin the Turkish thirteenth century Ey Derviccsler. Instrumental colour, percussive drama and rich and fluid playing are features of these invigorating performances.

The notes are authoritative and pack in a lot of detail into less than three pages – and I’m indebted to them. I reviewed and enjoyed this ensemble’s Carmina Burana for Naxos and this latest disc no less.

William Kreindler
MusicWeb International, May 2006

As coincidence would have it I listened to this CD only days after attending a lecture about the reconquest of Spain and hearing a Spanish music (Christian, Jewish, Islamic) concert by the venerable Waverley Consort. At first glance this disc seemed to flow perfectly into the same stream of Iberian music and history. But after I had listened to From Byzantium to Andalusia, I realized that I was dealing with something a little different. This CD represents a cross-section of musical/religious cultures around the Mediterranean, including Spain, but spreading a wider and less concentrated musical net than the lecture and the concert.

For those not up on their Iberian history, 1492 was not only the year that Columbus discovered America, but also the year that the Christian Spanish conquered the last stronghold of the Moorish Muslims in Spain. This was more than a political event as the Christian rulers Ferdinand and Isabella soon exiled any Moors and Jews who were not willing to convert to Christianity, in spite of previous promises to the contrary. The Moorish rule before this had been tolerant of all non-Islamic faiths and over time had evolved a syncretic combination of cultures and religions that seems praiseworthy even today. While not as tolerant, the Byzantine civilization at the other end of the Mediterranean also presented a positive picture of cultures living in harmony. A third example might better known to fans of Szymanowski: the court of King Roger.

The Oni Wytars Ensemble has been in existence since the early 1980s, a time when World music was almost an unknown concept. Their specialty is music of the whole Mediterranean and of all the inherent cultures, which is a very extensive charge, as they have demonstrated by the variety of their previous recordings on Naxos. On this disc they try to demonstrate the commonality of musical style in the area five hundred years ago, but end up displaying a more common approach in their own performances than in the music itself.

Of the fifteen tracks listed above, we may divide them up for demonstration purposes as follows: Christian: Tracks 1-4, 8, 9, 14, 15 Arab: Tracks 5-7, 13 Jewish: Tracks 10-12

From the Christian tracks alone we have music from Italy (Laudario di Cortona), Lebanon, and two different parts of what we now call Spain. The Jews and the Arabs are similarly all over the map. Yes, if you close your eyes, you frequently don’t know which tradition the music belongs to, but one is left with more of a musical travelogue than with a picture of a unique moment in Western history. The Mediterranean is the main character here, not the various peoples of the past.

The research that went into this disc is well documented in the program notes. The recording is excellent; though it seems to be taken from a couple of live concerts. One would not know it except for the applause. The individual performers are very committed and very lively, though their performance style tends to favor the Islamic part of the Mediterranean equation at the expense of the Judeo-Christian. As a document of the interpenetration of culture in this time and place, the disc falls short because it spreads its net too wide geographically at the same time that it applies a uniform style to a many-sided world.

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