Afghanistan, Serbia, Syria. Jordi Savall's introductory essay spells out his frustration at the apparent impotence and paralysis of governments in the face of both past and continuing human rights abuses throughout the world. His response is to attempt unification through music, both with his Pro Pacem project and through recordings such as this, which bring together musicians from inside and outside the areas of conflict in celebration (and sometimes lamentation) of a culture.
Orient-Occident II's accompanying book is an exquisitely illustrated companion to the recording. Alongside the pictures of 17c Ottoman ceramics, 14c Arab miniatures and 19c Syrian photographs we have a documentation of the recording itself. As in recent albums such as Balkan Spirit, Armenian Spirit and Orient-Occident 1200-1700 this took place high up in the hills beyond Barcelona at the Castle of Cardona, the ancient chapel providing a detailed yet warm acoustic. Virtuoso musicians from around the Mediterranean region join Jordi Savall in an intimate evocation of the essence of this antique Arabian land.
Music from Sephardic Spain, Renaissance Italy, Israel and of course Syria itself is intercut with Arabic chant and oud improvisations in a recital of myriad hues; the rebab, vielle and ney echoing age-old themes of devotion, love and loss. Instrumental music is balanced by vocal pieces, and it's in these particularly that the spectrum of sentiments is most fully realised, festivity and heartache often within touching distance of each other.
Despite possibly being conceived in a spirit of anguish and despair, Hommage à la Syrie is a reminder that an ancient heritage is bigger than any conflict, the qualities of resilience and hope inextinguishable by fundamentalist regimes of intolerance.