Orient-Occident II: Homage to Syria = Hesperion XXI/ Jordi Savall, dir., vielle, rebab – Alia Vox multichannel SACD AVSA 9900, 79:28 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] (12/10/13) ****:
What better way to start the year than with a new release from Jordi Savall and company? And what could be more pertinent than music from the topic chosen, Syria? These days, for a variety of reasons pro and con depending on where you lie in the political spectrum, Syria gets a lot of attention. And some of these concerns are not avoided by Savall in the extensive notes that come enclosed in the usual multi-language, slick-textured 426 page booklet. However, despite being a man who likes to see all sides of an issue, he takes the western media position against the Assad regime, stating as truths things that are considered as questionable by some in Syria itself, especially Christian Syria, like whether the use of chemical weapons was used by the regime or the “rebels”, who some believe are actually the true “terrorists” in the region. This slants the notes to this release to a degree that some might find unacceptable, and even unnecessary.
But this isn’t the first time this has happened in a Savall release, and one still has to applaud the fact that not only is an important artist paying attention, he is giving considerable and considered thought to the issues and is trying through his own strengths—his art—and not through the political forum to try and effect change. This is certainly very different than the huge numbers of actors who use their fame in order to draw attention to political events purely on a political level, as if what they think should have any more impact than what our neighbors down the street think. Savall turns to music not as a panacea, or a particular political goal, but as a way of changing the hearts and souls of people in order that they can understand each other on another, more basic level, and thereby begin to understand one another politically as well.
Again, as usual, the music’s the thing, and as usual, the music is quite enamoring. Syria in history was a lot larger than Syria now, and as a result the musical influences and even native expressions are many and varied. So we get a program of wildly disparate Syrian forms, Italy, and even Israel adding to the commixture of world music which shows that, just as the locale itself is the cradle of civilization, so music’s origins in this regard cannot be discarded. There are truly some wonderfully sweet, energetic, exciting, and poignant selections on this incredibly resonant and superbly-engineered SACD that anyone, even without an interest in world or early music, will find quite affecting, and in that regard these performances are easy to recommend.
TrackList:1. Ahla Zahra 2. Semaimakam Bayati 3. Creirem’en Fach 4. The Dawn 5. Shaouia 6. Dum Pater Familias 7. A Alab 8. Isabella 9. Ce Brun 10. Trotto 11. Ya Mariam El Bekr 12. Ghazal 13. Qalaq 14. Cantiga Virgen, Madre De Nostro Sennor 15. Hija Mia – Et Dodimkala 16. Una Pastora 17. A Damas 18. Improvisation Ney – Final March