Istanbul: Dimitrie Cantemir

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LABELS: Alia Vox
WORKS: Dimitrie Cantemir: The Book of the Science of Music and the Sephardic and Armenian musical traditions
PERFORMER: Kudsi Erguner, Hakan Güngör, Georgi Minasyan, Gaguik Mouradian, Murat Salim Tokaç, Yurdal Tokcan, Derya Türkan, Fahrettin Yarkin; Hespèrion XXI/Jordi Savall


One thing leads to another in Jordi Savall’s researches, and it was inevitable that he would finally focus on the world’s first great cross-cultural musicologist. Dimitrie Cantemir (1673-1723) was a Moldavian prince who pursued an extraordinary range of intellectual studies in tandem with his political ambitions: in addition to being a ground-breaking scientist, he was also a leading exponent on the tanbu¯r lute.

Championing the music of his temporarily adoptive home of Istanbul, he claimed that its indigenous music was – in terms of metre and word-setting – more sophisticated than that of Europe: Savall, having delved deeply into his musicological study, thinks the same.

He has accordingly put together a brilliant showcase of both Cantemir’s music and the musics he chronicled: this informatively-packaged CD reflects 18th-century Istanbul’s three main ethnic communities – Turkish, Armenian, and Sephardic – in equal measure, with exponents drawn from all round the Mediterranean.


The centre of gravity is the intricate ‘maqam’ ensemble, but for me at least the high points of this CD lie elsewhere: in the solo improvisations on the oud, lira, and kanun zither, and above all in the pieces involving the Armenian duduk, which has an ability to transport the listener to ethereal realms. Michael Church