Voyage Orient 207

Le Voyage en Orient
Le Banquet du Roy
rec. 2021, Saint Benoît Church, Saint Benoît-du-Sault, France
Booklet with notes in French and English

This CD features an interesting concept in presenting music of the Renaissance for a new audience. It has even been recorded in an authentic location that lies at the heart of one of the prettiest medieval villages in Loire Valley.

The idea here was to present some music of the Spanish composer and writer Francisco Guerrero, interspersed with musical pieces from the Middle East from roughly the same period. Guerrero, who was from Seville, wrote an account of his travels through the Middle East on a journey he undertook to Jerusalem in 1588. This would eventually be published around 1590 under the title El viaje de Jerusalen. Olivier Gladhofer, leader of the ensemble Le Banquet du Roy was inspired by the travel accounts that Guererro left to create a musical entertainment that would illustrate the composer’s progress through the Middle East. Guererro, who was chapel master of the cathedral in Seville, left behind a musical legacy that is documented in a 1589 volume Canciones y Villanescas espirituales, primarily a collection of villancicos: Iberian folk hymns that are intended for performance during the Christmas period. The Eastern music derives from traditional sources and a couple of tracks are improvisations that are in keeping with street musicians one might have encountered all over the region.

In general the program seems to be well thought out with a view to giving the listener a variety of musical styles rather than having all of the Spanish music at the beginning and the Eastern music at the end, as would have been the case for Guerrero’s experience on his journey. Early on, the languid tones of Gertrudis Vergara are most welcome in the villancico “Al Resplandor De Una Estrella”. One can easily presume this music is about the appearance of the Star of Bethlehem. Some of the villancicos are presented in purely instrumental form which the Banquet du Roy ensemble perform with relish and are quite enjoyable. They might even have a musical life apart from the program of this concert. It was with the intrinsically beautiful sonorities of the Greek Hymn “Meth’Imon O Theos” which completely wins me over to the album concept. This track is superbly sung by Messrs. Abdallah and Homsi who contribute bags of atmosphere to the disc. This is directly followed on the CD by the infectious “Vamos Al Portal”, which combines music from the Spanish Renaissance with something a little more exotic and unfamiliar. Similarly, “Alma Mirad Vuestro Dios” has the ability to intrigue because of its very Gothic hymn-like opening, combined with the dancing rhythm of the refrain. The entire program comes to an auspicious conclusion with a breathtaking and hypnotic improvisation for a solo oud.

While I applaud the level of artistic achievement in the concept of the program and the music making in general, there is one serious flaw to this recording which may affect one’s decision to acquire it. The documentation with this CD is relatively useless for the casual listener. It seems that no-one thought to guide the listener through the selections, or even describe the progression of Guerrero’s journey to the Holy Land. There is some brief biographical information provided about the composer but the rest of the two lengthy articles persist in making evaluations of Guerrero’s music or comparisons to his contemporaries. This, combined with the fact there are no song texts either in the original language or translations, leave this listener somewhat frustrated as I attempt to navigate through this musical journey. Certainly one could have done without the large amount of space devoted to images by orientalist artist Félix Ziem (1821-1911). While the images are beautiful and evocative, the space would have been far better utilized to give texts, translations, and a listener’s guide through the program. This is a serious flaw and it prevents me from making an outright recommendation to acquire this disc. However; if one is willing to forgo understanding what it is all about and just relax into some very fine performances of a musical program notable for its attention to atmosphere, then this is a disc that should be investigated.

Mike Parr

Availability: Editions Hortus

Francisco Guererro (1528-1599)
Apuestan Zagales Dos
Al Resplandor De Una Estrella
Los Reyes Siguen La Estrella
O Domine Jesu Christe
Meth’Imon O Theos
Francisco Guererro
Vamos Al Portal
Georges Camil Abdallah (1982-)
Darb Francis
Attrib to Pedro Guerrero (1520-)
Di Perra Mora
Père Basilios Khoury (1900-1985)
Inna Jibraïl
Francisco Guererro
Niño Dios D’Amor Herido
Lauda Ierusalem Dominum
Si Tus Penas No Pruebo
Wadih El Safi (1921-2013)
Jayin Ya Arz El Jaba
Francisco Guererro
Alma Mirad Vuestro Dios
Traditional Syrian
Ya Tera Tiri Ya H’Amama
Francisco Guererro
O Celestial Medicina
Pan Divino Graçioso
Todo Cuanto Pudo Dar
A La Villa Voy
Improvisation Au Oud

Gertrudis Vergara – soprano
Yannick Lebossé – counter-tenor, renaissance guitar, baroque guitar
Georges Camil Abdallah – baritone
Samir Homsi – oud, riqq, darbouka
Julie Dessaint – viola da gamba
Benoît Tainturier – cornett, recorder
Emmanuel Vigneron – bass dulcian, recorder
Olivier Gladhofer – viola da gamba, tenor dulcian, recorder