Thursday 14 April 2016

Another impressive disc from Apollo’s Fire bringing energy, colour, atmosphere and, indeed, fire to their new disc for Avie entitled Sephardic Journey: Wanderings Of The Spanish Jews

Avie Records  have just released another in a fine series of recordings by the period instrument ensemble Apollo’s Fire entitled Sephardic Journey: Wanderings Of The Spanish Jews bringing together a colourful array of genres from ancient Hebrew prayers to Ladino love songs and wedding songs and Italian baroque music encountered along their way after their expulsion from Spain in 1492 when they were scattered throughout Italy, Turkey and North Africa. The word Sephardic is derived from the Hebrew word for Spain. Ladino or Judeo-Spanish is the spoken and written Hispanic language of Jews of Spanish origin.          


Apollo’s Fire are directed by Jeannette Sorrell and are joined on this new disc by Apollo’s Singers and soprano and guest co-director Nell Snaidas , tenor Karim Sulayman  and baritone Jeffrey Strauss.

The music is grouped into five sections. I.  Jerusalem! opens with the traditional Sephardic Ir me kero, Madre, a Yerushalayim (arr. Jeannette Sorrell) bringing some terrific instrumental sounds from Apollo’s Fire. There are the most lovely inflections and textures and, when baritone Jeffrey Strauss enters, he brings a very fine, commanding voice, weaving the text with dexterity. Soprano Nell Snaidas and tenor Karim Sulayman add further fine textures in music full of feeling and atmosphere.  
The traditional Sephardic Kuando el Rey Nimrod (Avram Avinu) (arr. Jeannette Sorrell) brings rhythmic drums to which the other instruments join in a lively dance. Jeffrey Strauss joins in this happier, livelier song as do Nell Snaidas and Karim Sulayman and Apollo’s Singers, bringing  fine energy and sonorities.
II. The Temple commences with a traditional Sephardic liturgical chant Avinu Malkeinu (arr. Jeannette Sorrell) with the fine, powerful voice of Jeffrey Strauss over an instrumental accompaniment. There is a fine cello passage from Rene Schiffer as this piece moves mournfully and prayerfully forward, the choir joining to add a fine sonority.
Lecha Dodi is another traditional Sephardic liturgical chant (arr. Jeannette Sorrell) that opens with percussion soon joined by the other instruments of Apollo’s Fire in a slowly rhythmic melody. Wind instruments add texture before baritone Jeffrey Strauss joins in this impressively wrought piece, full of wonderful Middle Eastern inflections.

Salamone Rossi (Hebreo) (c. 1570-1630)  was an Italian/Jewish violinist and composer who served at the court of Mantua from 1587 to 1628 as concertmaster. He left around 300 works and published a collection of Jewish liturgical music, The Songs of Solomon in 1623. In his Sonata in dialogo detta la Viena Apollo's Fire weave some absolutely brilliant lines and textures, building through some fine passages before Rossi’s Al Naharot Bavel (By the Rivers of Babylon Psalm 137) from the Songs of Solomon where the choir  bring much fine control and energy along with a simple accompaniment.

The baritone opens lone to weave the text of Salamone Rossi’s Yitgaddal v'yitkaddash (Kaddish) (arr. Jeannette Sorrell) from the Songs of Solomon before a lively instrumental passage to which the choir join, full of fervour shaping the music so well.  

III. Love and Romance opens with Ah, el Novio no kere dinero (Ah, the bridegroom wants no money) a traditional Ladino song (arr. Jeannette Sorrell) with Apollo’s Fire immediately joining in, then Apollo’s Singers in this fast moving traditional theme. The wonderful sound of the shawm brings some terrific moments.
The traditional Ladino La Rosa enflorese (The rose blooms) (arr. Jeannette Sorrell) opens with the dulcimer slowly picking out the theme is. This is a very fine piece to which soprano Nell Snaidas joins, then followed by a violin to take this melancholy song ahead, this soprano finding a lovely Jewish inflection, as does the violinist Susanna P. Gilmore. Mezzo-soprano Amanda Powell joins to weave some very fine vocal textures.
Another traditional Ladino song is Adio kerida (Farewell, My Beloved) (arr. Jeannette Sorrell) where the strings bring some lovely sounds before tenor Karim Sulayman joins in this expressive piece. The instrumentalists weave fine textures before the music rises in drama and expression. When soprano Nell Snaidas joins she brings some exquisite moments to this very fine performance.
La Komida la Manyana is a Sephardic/Turkish) piece where drums open, then wind instruments in this traditional instrumental piece that dances ahead with many fine individual instrumental contributions from  Apollo's Fire.
The traditional Ladino A la una yo nací (At One I was Born) (arr. Jeannette Sorrell) brings a fine forward moving rhythmic bounce before tenor Karim Sulayman enters soon joined by baritone Jeffrey Strauss to weave the music forward, joined by the choir. The instrumentalists bring some terrific sounds, full of impact before all the soloists and Apollo’s Singers bring the dynamic end.
The 12th c. Spain Ki eshmera Shabbat (If I Guard the Sabbath) (words by Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra) (arr. Jeannette Sorrell) opens IV. The Sabbath with a melancholy theme from Apollo’s Fire to which baritone Jeffrey Strauss then adds his fine voice. Soon drums appear as the choir lead rhythmically ahead. The baritone continues over an instrumental drone like background before the choir return to lead again the firm rhythmic passage. Jeffrey Strauss becomes increasingly passionate with some terrific vocal inflections as he leads to a dramatic end. This is a terrific piece, impressively performed.
Halleluyah ‘Ashre 'Ish is from Salamone Rossi’s the Songs of Solomon and finds Apollo’s Singers and Apollo’s fire sounding out joyfully in this rather Western sounding setting.

Brian Kay improvises Taksim playing the oud, a lute like instrument of Middle Eastern origin, bringing a fine atmosphere full of Eastern inflection.
Tzur mishelo akhalnu is a Sacred Hebrew poem for the end of the Sabbath meal (arr. Jeannette Sorrell). Baritone Jeffrey Strauss again returns for this richly sung and very expressive setting, the ensemble weaving some fine instrumental textures with tenor Karim Sulayman and the choir joining with a fine blend of voices

V. Feasting and Celebration opens with two instrumental works by Salamone Rossi, first his Sonata sopra la Bergamasca (Sonatas, Book IV, No.12) where Apollo's Fire bring a lively, vibrant performance with some particularly fleet string playing followed by Sinfonia settimadecima & Galliarda detta la Zambalina (Sinfonie e Galliarde, Book II) which receives a lovely rhythmic lift from Apollo's Fire, beautifully shaped and full of life.
The traditional Ladino feasting songs Hazeremos una merenda | Kita'l tas (arr. Nell Snaidas) open with a lovely melody for cello before soprano Nell Snaidas enters bringing the most finely sung inflections. She is soon joined by Karim Sulayman and the Apollo’s Singers, gaining in energy as the instrumentalists join to bring a faster section with some particularly fast articulation from these voices.
La Komida la Manyana, a traditional Ladino folk song (arr. Rene Schiffer, Jeannette Sorrell, Nell Snaidas) concludes this disc with drums and percussion opening before Apollo’s Fire take the lovely theme forward. Apollo’s singers join in this fine rhythmic, piece with some terrific percussion playing from Rex Benincasa before the instrumentalists and choir take the music to its tremendous conclusion. 

This is another impressive disc from Apollo’s Fire bringing energy, colour, atmosphere and, indeed, fire. They are vividly recorded at St. Paul’s Church, Cleveland Heights, Ohio, USA. The CD booklet is very nicely produced booklet with excellent booklet notes by Jeannette Sorrell together with full texts and English translations.

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