Jordi Savall's latest project explores five centuries of shifting cultures in southern Spain, focusing on the city of Granada from its early Jewish roots to the final overthrowing of the last Muslim dynasty by Christian forces.
Savall, one of the Grand Old Men of Early Music, sees the disc's 79 minutes as a testament to the power of music to bring about intercultural dialogue, enlisting fine musicians from the Middle East to sing and play alongside his Hesperion XXI ensemble and the chamber choir, La Capella Reial de Catalunya.
A sumptuous 279-page book guides the listener along the journey, setting off with an opening Invocation from the Song of Songs and closing with a poignant Arabic lament, as the Muslims are forced to convert to Christianity.
Recorded during a series of 2013 concerts, unobtrusive paper shuffling and the occasional footsteps add ambience; what could have been a dry historical thesis is transformed into a living, breathing entity.
The almost overwhelming cultural richness of this soundworld makes for compulsive listening, from the sonorous choral singing of the first Mozarabic prayer to heady contrasts of Spanish and Moorish dances. There are many laments, justifiably elegiac, one accompanied by filigree-like improvisations that seem to echo the intricate traceries of Moorish architecture.
Cynics might see this CD as a WOMAD-inspired concept but, with Savall's scholarship and his talent for intriguing cultural juxtaposition, Granada 1013-1502 is so much more than that.
What: Granada 1013-1502 (Alia Vox, through Ode Records)
Rating: 5/5: a fascinating journey through 500 years of shifting cultures