April 26, 2013
Virtually a year after releasing their delicious recording, Los Pájaros Perdidos, Christina Pluhar and her early music ensemble, L’Arpeggiata, journey to the Mediterranean. Their subject is the interconnections between the musics of the “olive frontier” region that encompasses parts of France, Turkey, Northern Africa, Portugal, and Jordan. Beginning with the canti greci-salentini, songs and tarantellas rooted in Italy but sung for centuries by the Greek-speaking residents of southern Italy, their thoroughly engaging program astounds with the similarities in music sourced from different parts of the Mediterranean region.
It’s hard not to listen to Mediterraneo without thinking of Jordi Savall, and the countless musical tours of Europe he has recorded with his various ensembles. Even the timbre of Catalonian soprano Nuria Rial, one of the four distinctly voiced singers on the program, bears a striking resemblance to that of Catalonian Arianna Savall, daughter of Savall and his late wife, the great Montserrat Figueras. Some of L’Arpeggiata’s instrumentation — in this case, theorbo, cornett, psaltery, baroque harp, baroque guitar, chitarra battente, guitar, percussion, harpsichord, and double bass, with guest stints by the lyre and other instruments specific to the countries of the music’s origin — also overlaps with Savall’s.
The feel, however, is different. Much of this plaintive music is performed with a flow and sparity that, while quite captivating, lacks some of the refined, haunting elegance that makes so many of Savall’s recordings with his wife and ensembles so special. Then again, Savall never made use of the uncategorizable, fabulous Italian vocalist Vincenzo Capezzuto, who seems to be a genuine male mezzo rather than a countertenor falsettist; the extremely earthy and soulful Portuguese Misia; the equally earthy and unmistakably Greek Katerina Papadopoulou; the chaste Spanish soprano, Raquel Andueza; or the irresistible Rial.
Everyone will have their favorites on this disc of potential best friends. Especially striking are the duets between Capezzuto and Papadopoulou, whose voices blend as if one. For major contrast, play Rial singing the touching lament, “La dama d’Aragó” (The Lady of Aragon), and follow it with Capezzuto and the instrumentalists going wild in “Pizzica di San Vito,” Pluhar’s arrangement of the traditional St. Vitus Dance. Then you can play a party game where you have friends close their eyes, tell them nothing as they listen to the wonderfully beguiling Misia sing Carlos Paredes’ “Sem saber” — “Not knowing why I love you so, why I wept for myself” — and see if anyone guesses that its country of origin is 20th-century Portugal rather than Greece.
While, on a purely musical level, more contrast from piece to piece would have been nice – for contemporary guitarist / composer Carlos Conçalves’ “Amor de mel, amor de fel” (A sweet love, a bitter love) to immediately follow the traditional “La dama d’Aragó” (The Lady of Aragon), for example, results in consecutive two pieces of very similar feel, but that would obscure the similarities between a traditional song from Catalonia (Spain) and a modern one from Portugal. That quibble aside, this lovely program, which crosses national, continental, and music genre boundaries, is filled with music that touches the sweet place of non-specific longing that so many of us share.