Mare Nostrum

COMPOSERS: Dialogues of Christian Muslim and Jewish music from around the Mediterranean
LABELS: Alia Vox
ALBUM TITLE: Mare Nostrum
WORKS: Dialogues of Christian, Muslim and Jewish music from around the Mediterranean
PERFORMER: Montserrat Figueras, Gursoy Dincer, Lior Elmaleh; Hespèrion XXI/Jordi Savall


With its beautifully illustrated book in nine languages, this double CD marks the latest stage in Jordi Savall’s musical crusade for peace in the Mediterranean – or Mare nostrum, ‘our sea’. As the essays make clear, the ‘our’ refers equally to Christians, Muslims, and Jews – all ‘people of the book’ divided by centuries of strife. But that strife was intermittent and localised: it’s often forgotten how tolerant the Turks were of the Christians in their empire in the 16th century, for example, and how connoisseurs such as the Moldavian Prince Dimitrie Cantemir strove to awaken Europeans to the beauty of Oriental music. It’s also forgotten that the music of the French troubadours had Arabic roots.
Like Hespèrion’s previous CDs, this one is a lovely tissue of local musics: Sephardic and Turkish folk songs juxtaposed, improvisations on the Arabic oud and Armenian duduk, and singing from all three religious backgrounds showing how close their well-springs are. The soloists are remarkable: Gursoy Dincer brings a gentle Turkish lilt, Lior Elmaleh an answering sound from Jerusalem, and Montserrat Figueras accompanies herself on a variety of instruments in songs from all over.
And this is the underlying tragedy: three months after she finished these recordings, Figueras died of cancer. As Savall’s wife and collaborator since the early 1970s, this graceful, charismatic Catalan has spearheaded the entire crusade, and her passing represents a loss to the musical world.
Michael Church