Mare Nostrum – Montserrat Figueras, sop./ Lior Elmahleh, chant/ Hesperion XXI/ Jordi Savall – Alia Vox multichannel SACD AVSA 9888A+B (2 discs), 158:03 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
I was amazed on looking at a large map of the Mediterranean Sea just how many countries—and cultures—this vast expanse of water touches. Truly if ever there was a body of water that linked east and west, this one is it, from Spain to Jerusalem. And so much of the cradle of cultural civilization, including the three monotheistic religions that capture the majority of the world, was founded here. So you might see my astonishment at Jordi Savall’s latest “book” SACD release, called Our Sea and attempting to link the cultures of east and west through the music that developed along the shores of this great stretch.
It’s almost too much to ask; how can a (well-filled) couple of SACDs even begin to do justice to the huge amount of music created among these cultures for the past 2000 years? It can’t of course, and one of the frustrations of this set is the realization that only the surface has been scratched, and even that just barely. So many gaps are left, so many countries really left out, and so many regrets that the set couldn’t have doubled in size. But even then it would not matter—the subject, ostensibly the largest one that Savall has ever attempted, would need ten sets of the comprehensiveness and magnificence of this one to even begin to do justice to the topic.
But Savall has to be commended for trying, and even though the superbly-wrought hardback book is littered with some political opinions that many will find controversial, the production values are typically high with the music itself superlative both in performance and selection. One wonders how he keeps churning these things out, and they come quite often and can’t be cheap to make. One hopes desperately that he will continue to do so.
A posthumous release of late career Bill Evans in SACD format adds to the formidable legacy.