Early Jewish-Italian Spiritual Music
Ensemble Bet Hagat, Ayela Seidelman
Stradivarius STR 37124

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This CD opens and closes with ‘conventional’ Baroque instrumental music by Salomone Rossi, accounts on viols and lute of Songs to Solomon setting Hebrew texts and referencing Jewish chants. Also featured are a couple of Hebrew melodies and elaborations from Benedetto Marcello’s Estro Poetico-Armonico. These latter movements are rather imaginatively rendered on a selection of Baroque instruments, one of them with an underlying drum rhythm. These tracks prepare the way for a selection of traditional Jewish melodies sung by a group of traditional singers and accompanied mainly by atmospheric drones on a selection of Baroque instruments including a Baroque clarinet. It strikes me that these are heavily arranged and very much through the lens of contemporary traditional performance. I have mentioned the penchant for drones and prominent rhythms, to which should be added a dash of Kletzmer (surely a much more recent development) as well as the use of the wind instruments in multiple octaves – all in relatively modern taste. As such, these are very speculative accounts of how this music may have been performed in previous centuries. Having said that, the performances are beautifully idiomatic and sensitive. It crossed my mind that rather than extracting the Jewish melodies from Rossi and Marcello, it would be really nice to hear complete and authentic performances of Rossi’s Songs to Solomon and Marcello’s Estro Poetico-Armonico with these melodies in place – there is something perverse in ‘unravelling’ the textures so carefully constructed by these Italian masters. But I guess that is a whole other CD. Thanks to the imaginative approach and considerable musicality of the present performers, and the richness of the seam of music they are exploring, the CD that they did make is engaging and enjoyable, if at under 45 minutes a little brief.

D. James Ross

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