There is something so monumentally ambitious about Jordi Savall’s massive recording that you can only be awe-struck. Two CDs, a 400-page lavishly illustrated book with texts and essays on Jerusalem – the city and the music – in six languages, all produced in the service of peace.
One of the world’s early music experts, Savall uses the best soloists and ensembles. The soprano Montserrat Figueras, the group Hespèrion XXI and the singers of the Capella Reial de Catalunya will be familiar to any early-music lover; less so the assembled musicians from Europe and the Middle East.
The idea of the title starts in etymology. The word ‘Jerusalem’ contains the Arabic and Hebrew words for ‘peace’ and Savall is looking to both spiritual and earthly concord. Beginning with the sound of shofars (the ram’s horns traditionally used in synagogues) and anfirs, the long-stemmed medieval Arabic trumpets, Savall’s Jerusalem tells in musical terms the city’s 3,000 year history.
As in life, the music is a meeting place for history. Savall’s assembled texts, secular and sacred, acknowledge the many voices in the city’s construction – Jewish, Arabic, Armenian, Christian. Ouds, psalteries, tambours speed the progress, but the most exquisite moments belong to the voices – for example, ‘Zionida’, the lyric written by the 12th-century Spanish Jewish philosopher Judah Halevi. Jerusalem ends with ghazals (love songs) in Arabic, Hebrew and Greek. In seeking a musical dialogue, Savall seeks a world of harmony.