In two well-filled CDs, Jordi Savall, wife Montserrat Figureras, and colleagues attempt to paint a picture of Jerusalem's history in sound. The recording begins with the sound of shofars in a Jericho fanfare, which is presumably intended to evoke Joshua's circumnavigation of that other city. Following sections comprise a selection of music and texts representative of the Jerusalem's time as a Jewish, Christian, and Arab/Ottoman city, as well as songs of pilgrimage and lament over the holy city. Spoken texts include excerpts from the Talmud, Koran, a non-canonical gospel, and Pope Urban's call to the first crusade.
Savall's ensemble Hesperion XXI is joined by singers and instrumentalists from Israel, Palestine, Armenia, Greece, Morocco, and elsewhere. The music from Palestine is played by the Sufi Group Al- Darwish. The performances are superb, and the SACD sound is first-rate. "The whole thing has the sense of a scrupulous piece of historical and musicological research," as Andrew Clements has written in the Guardian, "even if it doesn't all gel into a satisfying experience." In May 2010 Savall is bringing this program to the Boston Early Music Festival, and I suspect that the program may be more effective in concert than on disc.
The accompanying book is beautifully done but reaches 435 pages in length only because it is in eight languages. As a previous reviewer has noted, the essays focus on the history of Jerusalem and its musical tradition and provide relatively little detail about the specific selections in the recording.