Music from the Sephardic Jews -
reviewed by REX HARLEY
'... sensitive and subtle performances.'
Diáspora Sefardí is a two CD set by Hesperion XXI,
under the direction of Jordi Savall. The first consists of vocal pieces,
the second of purely instrumental works; but before commenting on the performances,
it may be helpful to dwell on the title for a moment. The diáspora
in question began officially on 31 March 1492, when the Jews were expelled
from Spain -- (more specifically, from Aragon and Castile). They had been
a presence there since at least the fifth century BC, though the major influx
occurred in the year 711, in the wake of the Arab conquest of Southern Europe.
It may be worth remarking, in the present world climate of hostility, that
their arrival was welcomed and encouraged by the Arabs, and they were respected
as dhimmi : believers in another faith.
Their fate after the Christian reconquista was very different.
For the ensuing century and a half toleration and respect was replaced by
persecution, looting and murder. By 1480 they were being confined in ghettos.
Then, in 1492 came to order of expulsion. This affected some 300,000 Sephardim,
who were forced to abandon property and possessions as they fled. During
their flight, thousands were carried off as slaves, died or opted for the
relative security of Christian baptism. Though widely scattered throughout
Europe and what was then the Ottoman Empire, the feeling of being Spanish
in origin stayed with the exiles. Thus, wherever these new communities established
themselves, they spoke Castilian Spanish and told the stories, and sang
the songs, of the old country.
Copyright © 10 November 2002
Rex Harley, Cardiff, UK