Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Classical recording under different stewardship


“Far from being ‘on the verge of disappearing’, the classical recording industry is alive and well, but just under different stewardship" wrote Anthony Anderson, managing director Naxos UK, recently. Very true, but while Naxos, Hyperion and the larger independents are often in the spotlight the lesser known labels frequently don’t get the attention they deserve. One example is the Jaro label from Germany which is part of a small media group active in music publishing, artists bookings and live concert promotion, as well as recording. Among the eclectic list of artists on Jaro is the pioneering early music ensemble Sarband seen in my header photo, and their CD Pilgrim of the Soul is a great example of innovative programming and packaging from a small independent label.

Pilgrim of the Soul was recorded live at the Baalbek International Festival in the Lebanon. It features music from the three great religions which originated in the Middle East, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and focuses on the pilgrimage centres of Santiago de Compostela, Las Huelgas de Burgos, and Santa Maria de Montserrat. Sarband has featured on these pages before with their Bulgarian born director Vladimir Ivanoff, and they are joined on this CD by the Osnabrück Youth Choir and Lebanese contralto Fadia El-Hage. The single disc comes in a lovingly produced book format with excellent articles and beautiful colour photos. The packaging is a miniature work of art, but the downside is it won’t fit into your CD storage system.


This is an inspirational album which ranges from the sacred music of Hildegard von Bingen to the Arabic art-song genre called Muwashshah that originated in Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain). This repertoire is virtually owned by Jordi Savall, but the atmosphere and electricity of the open-air concert is very different to the church ambiance that create the signature sound of Alia Vox. The recording venue for Pilgrim of the Soul was the great Roman Temple of Bacchus in Baalbek in Lebanon which is seen in my photos here, and the summer thunder rumbling in the background is a great test of loudspeaker bass response. Listen to music samples by clicking here.

Baalbek is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is a wonderful venue for music celebrating the co-existence of Jews, Christians and Muslims in Al-Andalus. But since the recording was made in 1998 Baalbek has been at the centre of religious conflict, not co-existence. The town has a Shi'ite majority, and is a strategic, medical and educational centre for Hezbollah. The commandos who kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in July 2006, and triggered war between Israel and Lebanon, are reported to have been trained in the Baalbek area. While later, in August 2006, Israeli forces used helicopters to raid the Hezbollah hospital in Baalbek.

Pilgrim of the Soul is a very moving document, but sadly events have proved that religious co-existence in Baalbek remains a musical rather than practical concept. But this is music to share, and I will be featuring a selection from Pilgrim of the Soul on my Overgrown Path radio programme at 5.00pm UK time on Sunday October 7 coupled with a neglected 20th century masterpiece that also takes its cue from pilgrims - more details tomorrow.


Buy Pilgrims of the Soul online here, And now read about an Islamic setting of the Psalms that also features Sarband.
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