Initiating a promising series into the Renaissance Players' catalog of 2500 collected, arranged, or original pieces is this volume of Spanish-Jewish folk material. The longest standing early music group, the Renaissance Players contain a peerless level of talent and ability allowing them to reproduce folk styles on period instruments. Presented here are over 20 instruments employed by the nine-piece group in creating an airy, vivacious sound. The collection here is of instrumentals and folk songs. The Sephardic has a traditionally mandatory inclusion of coloratura (vocal ornamentation), which means each sung phrase is decorated with clever musical turns about the melody. In addition to this technical intricacy, the music here is infused with Arabic feeling. The result is an exotic body of traditional material. With themes about the thorny rose of love, there is a new dance in the Macedonian style suitable for a wedding fete and a tender soprano and harp duet on the dubious magic of love at first sight under a coloring moon. More traditional melodies capture strident folk whistles, bright over rapid pulsations of sharp ethnic percussion. A very poignant and tender song is "Noches Bueanas." This pairing of soprano voice and bouzouki artfully captures the pain of a broken heart. In another unforgettable ode to lost love ("Punhca, Puncha la Rosa Huele"), the perfume of the flower proves cloying after the heart is rent. Guitar, harp, and the taunting knock of castanets backs the soprano here. Successfully capturing the variances of human passion through the varied and manifold music of the Spanish Jews makes The Sephardic Experience, Vol. 1 a richly rewarding early music collection. The thick, glossy booklet includes historical and musicological notes along with notes and translations to each track.
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AllMusic Review by Tom Schulte