La Sublime Port, Voices of Istanbul 1430-1750 [TrackList follows] – Gürsoy Dinçer, Turkish song/ Montserrat Figueras, Spanish song/ Lior Elmaleh, Israeli song/ Hesperion XXI, Jordi Savall, director – Alia Vox multichannel SACD AVSA 9887, 79:49 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
This release focuses attention on the musical fecundity of the period of the Ottoman Empire that covers the period right before the conquest of Constantinople (renamed Istanbul) up through the “tulip” period that show a remarkable flowering of the arts yet at the same time a decline in the mathematics and science realms that had so marked the medieval period. Four languages, along with consequent cultures, were present in the realm: Turkish, Greek, Spanish, and Hebrew, and this mixture were bound to have an influence on the music that came out of this implanted empire.
I use that term because the conquest of Constantinople represented an inheritance of the first rank, the culmination of years of considerable advance in arts and letters, law and science, mathematics and philosophy, and a tolerance to other countries and religions only guessed at in the lands today that are now ex-Ottoman and replete with a fundamentalist spirit that would have bewildered Sultan Mehmet II who took the great city. Even though by 1300 a weakened Byzantine Empire had lost most of its Anatolian provinces to ten Ghazi principalities, these newly formed provinces that would be the beginnings of the Ottoman Empire were to have concrete and lasting origins from the Byzantine culture that gave them birth. But despite the insistence in the booklet notes that the occupation of Christians, Jews, and other non-Moslems was a “happy” occurrence in the empire, and despite the fact that these groups were often given a large degree of self-governance, “the Moslems guaranteed Christians a definite place in Turkish society; but it was a place of guaranteed inferiority. Orthodox Christians were required to pay an annual head tax, like cattle. To the Turks they were unbelievers, and they had absolutely no rights of citizenship. They even had to wear distinctive dress. They could not marry Moslems, nor could they engage in missionary work of any kind; in fact, it was a crime, usually punishable by death, to convert a Moslem to the Christian Faith.” The same held for the Jews and other minority groups.
Despite this, the cosmopolitan nature of this music is therefore something that might be expected as any society with such an ecumenical populace could not help but be influenced by what was heard across the street. There have been scholarly tomes for years that have argued the degree to which whom influenced whom, but in the end it is impossible to discern. One is simply stuck with listening to this music itself, a highly sophisticated and varied lot that eventually evolved into a certain type of Turkish “classical” music, even though most westerners might dispute the claim. And its song origins continue to mesmerize with the universal themes of love and longing, death, and loss—something fairly cross-cultural if ever there was.
As usual, Savall and forces find a way to make us appreciate this music even though it is far removed from our own understanding, but the precision of execution and fluidity of style are two things we do relate to, especially when presented in modern and well-balanced surround sound. Another thumbs-up from a source that is continually bending my finger back. A large and superb booklet and high all-around production values round out the picture.
Segâh Kâr Kâr-i Sesâvâz (XVIIIe.)
Taksim & Makam “Uzzäl usules” Dervis Mehmed
Por alli pasó un cavallero Anonymous Sépharad (Smirna, XVIe.)
Plainte (duo Duduk – flûtes arméniennes) Anonymous Armenia
El Rey que tantomadruga Anonymous Sepharad (Smirna, XVIe.)
Hisar Agir Semai Buhuri Zade Mustafa Itri (ca. 1640-1712)
Taksim & Makam “Bûselik usûles” Dimitrie Cantemir (1673-1723)
Chant Spirituel Jewish traditional
Makam “Rehavi Çember” Tanburi Angeli (1690)
Gazal Improvisation (traditional Turkey)
Taksim & Makam “Hicâz usûles” Anonymous (manuscript D. Cantemir)
Romance Sefarade – Istanbul (M. Figueras)
Hisar Buselik Sarki Tanburi Mustafa Cavus (1700-1770)
Taksim & Danse (Kemancha & perc.) Anonymous – Traditional Armenia
Rast Nakie “Amed ne si” Hace Abdulkadir Meragi (1350-1435)
Chico Hamilton and Little Feat join forces on this impressive 2023 Record Store Day Black Friday release.