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By Patricia Boccadoro

SARTENE, CORSICA, 2 September 2005—After an extensive tour around the Mediterranean island of Corsica, singer and composer Jean-Paul Poletti and the choir of Sartène returned to their majestic hill-top base, "the most Corsican of Corsican towns," to sing Poletti's sublime oratorio, Terra Méa , in the tightly packed church of Saint-Damien.

Commissioned six years ago by the C.T.C., the Collectivité Territorial de Corse, an organization which takes on the work of a local minister of culture, the oratorio commemorates the 2000 years of Christianity in the island.

Terra Méa took me over two and a half years to complete", Jean-Paul Poletti told me, "because I  had to recount two thousand years of the island's history, step by step, in one hour. But the most difficult part was to find the right kind of music for each period in time. No amount of research could come up with what the music was like hundreds of years ago, and so I had to use my imagination and compose it all." 

"Corsica has been inhabited by such a mixture of cultures, including the Greeks, the Neapolitans, as well as the Arabs, all with their different systems of notation", he continued, "and there was also the complicating fact that I wanted to include the origins of polyphony."

J.P. Poletti and the Choeur de Sartène
(c) 2004 Universal Classics France
Photo: Y.Coupannec

The resulting oratorio, which is first and foremost sacred music with all the emotion it provokes when sung by this magnificent group of seven men, is of rare beauty. It is a fascinating combination of past and present, with the first part of the recording firmly rooted in the mists of time, while the second, more accessible, contains more familiar and more sensual melodies of more recent times. The interpretation is extraordinary, with the voices of the individual soloists soaring above the choir in each section, whether it be Poletti himself, in "Inviolata", Stéphane Paganelli in "Ave Maria", or Mathieu Begue-Tramoni in Terra Méa .

Cula l'onde di ruscellu s'accendenu di canti colti per issi viaghj in le vene terranie, cula un rispiru d'umanu si perde in mille lumi.  Terra Méa. ("Beyond, the waters of a little stream light up with the music from journeys to the depths of the earth. And beyond, a breath of mankind spills out in a thousand lights. My land.")

A recording, made in the church of Fozzano, Corsica, is available from Universal Classics, France.
The choir will shortly be leaving for guest appearances in Argentina, Mexico, Mauritius and Algeria.

Patricia Boccadoro writes on the arts in Europe. She is a senior editor at  Culturekiosque.com and has contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times.

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