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Music Review

‘Sacred Bridge’ a meeting of ensembles - and faiths

MICHELE MCDONALD FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Camerata’s Anne Azéma.

CAMBRIDGE - The Boston Camerata’s “The Sacred Bridge: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Medieval Europe’’ production goes back to 1990, but no program that brings together the three Abrahamic faiths will ever be out of date. Saturday at Longy School of Music’s Pickman Hall, the Camerata was joined by Sharq Arabic Music Ensemble for a evening that reminded us how readily Jews, Christians, and Muslims meet in prayer and song and dance.

Camerata music director emeritus Joel Cohen was the lighthearted host, reminding the packed house that “Jewish entertainers did not start with Groucho Marx and Woody Allen’’ and describing the 13th-century poet Isaac Gorni as “a medieval Jewish schlemiel in Provence.’’ The evening started in dramatic fashion: Jesse Lepkoff walked out on stage and played a flute melody, then Anne Azéma and Michael Collver joined in from the balcony, singing a Sephardic prayer in Hebrew and Spanish. Cohen came out and sang Psalm 137 - “By the Rivers of Babylon’’ - in Hebrew, with his back to the audience, as if in exile.

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The first half of the program was given over to Jewish music: “Songs of Exile,’’ “Minority Minstrels in the Middle Ages,’’ “Jewish Folksongs of the Mediterranean.’’ Yet there was a sacred bridge even here. Cohen and Collver sang, in Hebrew and Latin, a psalm whose melody has been taken into the plainchant repertoire as the “tonus peregrinus.’’ Sharq member Mehmet Sanlikol sang, in Hebrew, a “Eulogy of Moses’’ composed by a 12th-century Christian monk who had converted to Judaism. The Mediterranean folk song section ended with Azéma and Collver dueting in an 18th-century circumcision prayer whose lines alternate Provençal and Hebrew.

The second half of the program, a visit to medieval Spain, gave more room to the instruments: Cohen’s lauta, Lepkoff’s flute and recorder, Collver’s cornetto, Carol Lewis’s vielle, Sanlikol’s oud, and Boujemaa Razgui’s ney. Ziya Tabassian joined Razgui on percussion, the two of them kicking the songs and prayers into celebratory, and often sinuous, dance. Much of this music came from the hand, or the court, of the 13th-century Castilian king Alfonso el Sabio. Toward the end, Cohen and Razgui found themselves singing the same tune, one in Hebrew, the other in Arabic.

There was one encore, an excerpt from a Moroccan nouba. Cohen advised us that they were playing just the excerpt because an entire Moroccan nouba can last all night. The audience applauded the piece as if it would have been happy to stay till dawn.

Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at jeffreymgantz@gmail.com.
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