Voice of Memory: Bal & Kan (Honey and Blood) – Hesperion XXI/ Jordi Savall – Alia Vox (3 SACDs)

by | Apr 11, 2014 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

Voice of Memory: Bal & Kan (Honey and Blood) – Hesperion XXI/ Jordi Savall – Alia Vox multichannel SACD AVSA9902 (3 discs), 231:35 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] (4/11/14) ****:

This latest in Savall’s ongoing survey of world music focuses again on the Balkans, this time with a lot more depth and integrality than we have had before. It’s a large set—three beautifully recorded surround sound discs, and an excellent multi-lingual 600 page full color book. I still can’t figure out how he gets these things out so quickly, with such evanescent quality, and such research, let alone the astoundingly wonderful performances that graces almost all of these productions.

The Balkan countries (the Ottomans named them for “honey and blood”) can rightly be called the cradle of European Civilization, the hotspot that is to the western world what the Middle East is to the Orient, and this recording concentrates on the plethora of influences, especially Christian, Jewish, and Muslim, from which over 40 singers and instrumentalists were invited to take part in this effort. They hail from fourteen countries, and compile together a host of music from the region along with that of the Sephardic and Gypsy ancestors.

The music is wide-ranging and thematically scattered, but the organization of the program has tried to give it some sense of context. It is divided into six sections: Creation: Universe, Encounters, and Desires; Spring: Birth, Dreams, and Celebrations; Summer: Encounters, Love, and Marriage; Autumn: Memory, Maturity, and Journey; Winter: Spirituality, Sacrifice, Exile & Death; and Reconciliation.

The music spans the gamut of types—celebratory, rural, urban, old, new, and from each culture represented on native instruments. There is a pathetic quality to much of this music—the remembrances of this body of work always is hopeful, but always reflects the profound tragedy that haunts so much of the history of this region. Hence, Balkan—Honey and Blood—is a very appropriate title. May the region enjoy the former in abundance and never again see the latter. Albums like this help to spread the word, and it is warmly welcomed.

—Steven Ritter

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