Featuring Constantinople and Barbara Furtuna. Coproduced by Early Music Vancouver and Caravan World Rhythms. At Christ Church Cathedral on Friday, October 18
Count this concert as a brilliant conceptual coup for organizers Early Music Vancouver and Caravan World Rhythms, and a sonic cornucopia that will ring fresh in listeners’ memories for a long time to come.
EMV, of course, specializes in the kind of European music that predates the classical era, while Caravan generally works with world-music performers, especially ones from Africa and the Mediterranean countries. So this ground-breaking collaboration between four singers from the island of Corsica and three early-music specialists from Montreal was a perfect fit—and that was apparent even before the two ensembles began swapping songs from their respective traditions.
Constantinople’s Tehran-born artistic director Kiya Tabassian set the tone right at the top, when his trio opened with “A moresca”, an ancient melody drawn from Corsican folklore. The combination of his plangent, mandolinlike setar, his younger brother Ziya’s resonant frame drum, and Elin Söderström’s viola da gamba made the concert’s cross-cultural drift obvious, but less apparent was the depth of the current. The Italian term moresca means “in the Moorish style”.
In other words, the links between Corsica and the Islamic world go way back. But there are significant stylistic differences, too. The polyphonic vocal tradition embodied by Barbara Furtuna’s Jean-Pierre Marchetti, André Dominici, Jean-Philippe Guissani, and Maxime Merlandi doesn’t exist in Islamic music, where harmonization is next to nonexistent. Conversely, improvisation plays a relatively small role in Corsican traditional song, which is so intricately harmonized that any deviation from the path would presumably spell disaster.
Thanks to some inspired programming, both differences and similarities were given their due on Friday night. The numbers where Barbara Furtuna sang unaccompanied were a fascinating window into a vocal style that’s derived from Catholic liturgical music but that’s been allowed to evolve in a way that, say, Gregorian chant hasn’t: the harmonies are more complex, reaching at times almost jazzlike sophistication. Constantinople’s instrumental exploration of medieval themes suggested that the aforementioned “Moorish” influence reached as far as the British Isles, perhaps as an unintended consequence of the Crusades. And when the two ensembles joined forces, the blend was unforced and entertaining, especially in the final encore, which found Tabassian singing arm-in-arm with the Corsicans, while Merlandi playfully pulled the Iranian’s ayatollah-worthy beard.
Overall, Canti di a Terra suggested that the world is smaller than we think—but its sonic possibilities remain immense.