This release reprises the sumptuous production values of Alia Vox’s recent projects centred on Jerusalem and on the Borgias. When I interviewed Jordi Savall for Gramophone last summer (11/11), he described ‘Mare nostrum’ as an attempt at promoting intercultural dialogue, using the history of the different cultures and religions clustered around the Mediterranean both as a metaphor and as illustration. As with the projects just mentioned, the supporting texts are translated in many languages (here as many as 10). The result is a very handsome book, the quality of whose illustrations is frequently breathtaking.
If I’ve taken so long to get to the music, it’s to do justice to the scope and intention of this project, in which music is the catalyst, singing not only on its own behalf but also in the service of ideas; and because this is the first Alia Vox project to have been issued since the death of Montserrat Figueras late last year. Figueras herself takes centre stage throughout, all bar one of the sung numbers being divided or shared between her and the fine Israeli tenor Lior Elmaleh. This concentration on just two singers gives the project a remarkable coherence, despite the varied provenance of the texts and music, which ranges throughout Europe. As with the previous, similarly conceived ‘Jerusalem’ project (4/09), notated Western ‘early music’ is barely touched on – no bad thing in itself, though something of a surprise. Equally, Savall’s collaboration with non-Western musicians receives here perhaps its fullest expression. The quality of the performances is gentle and serious. Even the livelier instrumental numbers are imbued with a sense of innate poise. In the circumstances, let’s mention and linger on one of Montserrat Figueras’s solo numbers, the traditional Andalusian cradle song ‘Duerme mi niña’, in which her voice, delicate yet warm, and wonderfully evocative, is heard to most moving effect. In its meticulous pacing, consummate artistry and generous aims, ‘Mare nostrum’ seems a fitting tribute.