The music of medieval Iberia, from the province of Andalusia or al-Andalus, has survived in oral traditions from all three of its constituent groups, Arab, Jewish, and Christian. This opens up possibilities for reconstructing quite a large body of music, although of course the uncertainties increase along with the variety of information. This release by the Spanish early music group Capilla Antigua de Chinchilla focuses on Sephardic vocal music in the Ladino language. The word "endechar" means to lament, and the concept as applied to the program here seems to indicate not only the actual funeral songs (there are only two, designated "endecha sefardí" in the tracklist), but also the tint of melancholy that seems to pervade the whole. The two endechas are quite unusual; Muerte que a todos convidas (Death who invites us all, track 5) comes from the perspective of a dying nobleman gathering loved ones about him and describes this scene in some detail, while Ya crecen las hierbas (Now the plants are growing, track 7) is a brief, intense lament for the passage of time. There is also a cradle song, a pretty sexy wedding song, and pieces called romance sefardí or canción sefardí, describing matters of courtly love in a way that would have seemed familiar to French listeners of the time. Are these more melancholy than comparable examples from other medieval cultures? They have been shaped over the centuries by Jewish and Arabic traditions that make them sound "minor," but this doesn't close the case, and the "Lament for Spain" subtitle of the disc is purely an abstract notion rather than a description of the contents. Reconstructors of this music can choose from among various emphases: not only Jewish, Arabic, or Christian, but also eastern and western Mediterranean, for these songs migrated eastward after the Jewish expulsion from Spain in 1492. Listeners whose interest is in Jewish music specifically will find that these performances don't sound Jewish in the modern sense. That's because the performers have relied on sources from modern Morocco, where these songs survived with Arabic lyrics; these lack the heavy ornamentation characteristic of the eastern basin. Nor are the instruments specific to the Jewish world; they are, as director José Ferrero points out in his notes, mostly characteristic of Christian Europe, a procedure for which he cites documentary evidence. One hears flutes, medieval harps, shawms, and most remarkably a beautifully played psaltery, along with Arab viols and a variety of percussion instruments including "nackers," which are castanets. The performances are all lively and give a sympathetic introduction to this still rather neglected phase of the Iberian medieval repertory. The booklet, in English and Spanish, needed a final round of editing. For texts in Ladino and English, the listener is obliged to go online.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim