As is typical with every project he undertakes, Jordi Savall's album Istanbul: Dimitrie Cantemir "The Book of the Science of Music" and the Sephardic and Armenian musical traditions is beautifully executed, with lively, idiosyncratic performances informed by scrupulous research and collaboration with performers who are masters in their field. Cantemir (1673-1723) was one of the most exceptional and multitalented men of his time. He was twice briefly the Prince of Moldavia; a scholar in the fields of linguistics, ethnography, historiography, religion, philosophy, literature, and music, whose intellectual achievements were recognized in Eastern and Western Europe and in the Ottoman Empire, an advisor to Peter the Great of Russia, and a composer and virtuoso performer. He devised a notation system for Ottoman music and left a vast collection of transcriptions of existing and original compositions in The Book of the Science of Music. The recording includes music from that collection as well as Sephardic and Armenian music, played by members of Savall's ensemble Hespèrion XXI and musicians from Armenia, Israel, Morocco, and Greece. The result is a fascinating and diverse sampling of the ways the musical traditions of cultures around the Mediterranean have complemented and influenced each other. The complex metrical patterns and the use of non-Western modes and instruments create a sound that may be exotic to most Western listeners, but the music is rhythmically energetic, often danceable, melodically accessible, and emotionally direct. The pieces vary widely in style, mood, and instrumentation, they are delicate, soulful, and sophisticated, and they are played with an infectious spontaneity. The sound of Alia Vox's SACD is transparent, vivid, and very present. The album should appeal to listeners with an interest in the music of the Near and Middle East and in the ways musical cultures intersect and interact.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins