In memoria eterna
Mozarabic chant & Moroccan Samaa
Ensemble Organum/Marcel Pérès
Harmonia Mundi HMM905319 74:09 mins
This intriguing disc has been no less than 24 years in the planning. The brainchild of early music specialist Marcel Pérès, In memoria eterna explores the spiritual and sonic affinities between two Christian and Muslim chanting traditions: the spiritual practice of the Samaa of Morocco and 15th-century Mozarabic chant, a liturgical chant particular to the Christians living in Spain at the time of Arab rule.
Pérès is a leading authority on Gregorian chant and this ambitious recording project finds him equally impassioned about these two striking vocal forms from North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula. In memoria eterna presents the two traditions as entwined: the disc charts a single ‘prayer vigil’ which passes back and forth between the two chant forms, also switching between solo improvised ‘recitative’ and choral chant.
The disc features singers from Pérès’s acclaimed Ensemble Organum alongside singers from Morocco. This blend of voices lends the ensemble a rich, varied edge that is most welcome in this repertoire, and vocalist Rachid El Mazzaoui must be singled out for his soaring solo account of Psalm 36.
As a listening experience, the disc is somewhat austere but certainly transporting in its sheer meditative intensity. Meanwhile, Pérès’ sleeve notes make for fascinating if at times slightly awkward reading: doubtless the project has been undertaken with great sincerity, but phrases like ‘deciphering the genetic code of spirituality’ suggest a somewhat outdated quest for universality. Nonetheless, this is certainly a thoughtful and carefully researched disc that offers striking insight into these two captivating vocal traditions.