Café (Orient Meets Occident)
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Several musicians, including Jordi Savall, have tried to get a grip on the substantial musical interchange between western Europe and the Ottoman Turks that took place in the 17th and 18th centuries, culminating in no less a work than Beethoven's Ninth. This release is among the most interesting in this vein, partly because it comes from a Turkish perspective. Istanbul's Pera Ensemble under Mehmet C. Yesilcay offers a wide-ranging program that touches on many facets of the European-Turkish relationship. The majority of the music is Western, but is played on a mixed ensemble of Western and Turkish instruments, with subtle, delightful effects. The performers do not seem to be suggesting that settings like this were actually terribly frequent during the period under discussion, but sometimes, with a fresh area of musical performance, the best way to make things clear is to do something a bit speculative. The interaction occurred on both sides: several Western musicians, by choice or by necessity, lived in Turkey and began to notate what they heard. But the cultural influence was wider in the other direction and even included the popularity of coffee, which was introduced to Austria after Turkish troops left sacks of it behind during the Siege of Vienna in 1683. Thus the program includes not just Turkish-style pieces, like Fux's "Janitschara" (track 11) and the "Marche pour la cérémonie Turcs" of Lully (track 1, written for the most important Western manifestation of the cultural clash, Molière's play Le bourgeois gentilhomme), but also opera arias linked to the Turkish theme by no stronger bond than that the composer might have been inspired by drinking coffee. It sounds a bit off the wall, but the listener comes away with a new sense of the cultural mixtures involved in this early stage of "orientalism." And who's to say that the Turks did not at times arrange performances of Western music, which their diplomatic corps would have known well? Novel and highly recommended.