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O Jerusalem! (Apollo’s Fire)

Apollo’s Fire/Jeannette Sorrell (Avie)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

O Jerusalem!
Sephardic, Medieval and Traditional Songs
Apollo’s Fire/Jeannette Sorrell
Avie AV2501   54:10 mins

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There’s no shortage of musical projects that explore Jerusalem as a melting pot of cultures and faiths. Gladly, O Jerusalem offers fresh insight into this musical ‘crossroads’ with a recording that brims with energy and imagination.

The disc is the brainchild of harpsichordist and conductor Jeannette Sorrell, who directs the celebrated period-instrument ensemble Apollo’s Fire. The group explored some similar themes in their 2014 project Sephardic Journey, which interwove Sephardic folk song with early Baroque Hebrew choral music. O Jerusalem broadens out to consider the musical interplay between Judaism, Islam and Christianity in Jerusalem’s ‘Four Quarters’ – Jewish, Arab, Christian and Armenian – from the period of the late Medieval to the early Baroque (c1200 to 1650).

The result is a highly atmospheric ‘tour’ of the city, with each quarter explored via a handful of intersecting musical vignettes. Sorrell combines the excellent Apollo’s Fire with some outstanding guest artists, and period Western instruments are joined by an array of extra musical forces including ney (end-blown flute), hammered dulcimer and accordion. We hear Sephardic chants, a new arrangement of a medieval sacred Armenian hymn for cello and double bass, and a mesmerising improvisation on the oud (fretless lute) by Palestinian musician Ronnie Malley. Toward the end of the disc, radiant excerpts of Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 burst forth from the choir as a nod to the influence of Jewish and Arabic sacred chanting on the late Renaissance composer’s music.

Programmed with real vision and beautifully performed, this is a mesmerising portrait of Old Jerusalem reimagined through sound.

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Kate Wakeling