MUSIC FROM THE BALKANS FOR VIOLIN AND PIANO • Miroslav Hristov (vn); Vladimir Valjarevi? (pn) • CENTAUR 3208 (65:28)
ENESCU Violin Sonata No. 3. ZADEJA Violin Sonata. VREBALOV Eastern Chapel Meditations. SKALKOTTAS Petite Suite No. 2. Read more class="COMPOSER12">VLADIGEROV Bulgarian Suite: Song
While I never cease to be humbled by the breadth and depth of Fanfare readers’ knowledge, I’m going out on a limb here in guessing that two of the names here are unfamiliar. Çesk Zadeja (1927–97) has been called “The Father of Albanian Music.” After study at the Moscow Conservatory, Zadeja returned to Albania to become a founding member and artistic director of the State Ensemble of Folksongs and Dances in Tirana. He is also credited with being the first Albanian composer to write a symphony based on Albanian folk melodies. Both Amazon and ArkivMusic list a couple of other discs featuring Zadeja’s piano music, so he is not totally unknown here in the West, though I suspect his name and works are more familiar in Albania.
Zadeja’s Violin Sonata (1972–74) is a fairly short work of 11 and a half minutes in two movements. The opening Moderato belies its date of composition. It’s a highly expressive reverie in an Impressionistic vein that flirts with what I suspect is an Albanian modality. It’s very soothing, mystical music that may have some connection to Islamic or Christian Orthodox chant. The complementary second movement (Allegro) is a strongly rhythmic, folk-based dance, not unlike some of the stomping Romanian dances of Bartók.
Aleksandra Vrebalov (b.1972) is a Yugoslavian-born Serbian composer whose training and career are rather more cosmopolitan than Zadeja’s. After study in Novi Sad (Serbia) and Belgrade, Vrebalov pursued her musical education all over the map—at San Francisco’s Conservatory of Music, Prague’s Academy of Music, and finally the University of Michigan where she earned her doctor of musical arts degree. Currently, she is based in New York. Her string quartet, Pannonia Boundless, has been recorded by the Kronos Quartet (Nonesuch 79490), and she has received numerous awards and fellowships for her work.
Vrebalov’s Eastern Chapel Meditations for violin, piano, and pre-recorded sounds is a piece that can be enjoyed by anyone, but it’s likely to have special resonance for New Yorkers because it’s mood music meant to evoke not just a particular city landmark but a specific space within that site, namely the St. Savior Chapel in St. John’s Cathedral. The work grew out of a request by the Orfeo Duo to Vrebalov for a piece that would relate to the Manhattan neighborhood that stretches from 96th to 145th Street of the Upper West Side and Harlem. Vrebalov explains that one of her favorite places in the area is the cathedral with its intimate chapel and shrine dedicated to African saints. The music is what you would expect of such a piece: It’s quiet, contemplative, and highly static, producing an impression of simultaneous floating and motionlessness.
Greek composer Nikos Skalkottas (1904–49) is more familiar. For five years, from 1927 to 1932, he was a student of Schoenberg, whose 12-tone system Skalkottas largely adopted. As a result, he’s often classified as a member of the Second Viennese School, but his musical voice doesn’t really harmonize with the Austro-German tradition that gave rise to Mahler, Zemlinsky, Schreker, Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern.
Skalkottas’s Petite Suite No. 2 (1946) is more or less a 12-tone work, but in the hearing it’s rather less so than more. It has neither the disjunct, disorienting sound of some of Schoenberg’s atonal works nor the atomized sound of Webern’s lilliputianized Mahler symphonies. Skalkottas would probably hate me for saying this, but to my ear his suite sounds almost romantic, with a busily buzzing Allegro vivace finale that puts me in mind of Beethoven’s Rage Over a Lost Penny.
Reviewing for Fanfare, sooner or later, one makes acquaintance with a composer never before heard of, and then, inexplicably, he keeps turning up again and again. Such is the case with Pantcho Vladigerov (1899–1978). This is the third time I’ve encountered this Bulgarian composer, once on a disc titled Romantic Music for Cello and Piano (Fanfare 33: 5) and again on an album titled Song to My Love, a program of Bulgarian songs and dances transcribed for bassoon (34: 4). On the current CD, Vladigerov is represented by the same “Song” from his Bulgarian Suite that appeared on the Romantic Cello disc, only here in a transcription for violin and piano. Apparently, both the violin and cello versions are of Vladigerov’s own making.
I’ve left for last Enescu’s Violin Sonata No. 3, only because with more than 25 recordings—including one by the composer himself, reviewed by Robert Maxham in 33:5—it has to be the most widely known work on the disc. Other famous recordings have been by Yehudi Menuhin (an Enescu student) and sister Hepzibah, dating from 1936; by Ida Haendel, who seems to have recorded the piece at least three times with three different pianists; and, of course, by Isaac Stern with Alexander Zakin (1967). I’ve always liked Stern’s performance for its gypsy swagger and penetrating intensity. The subtitle of the sonata, after all, is “in the Romanian popular character.”
Violinist Miroslav Hristov needn’t take a back seat to any of the above. Bulgarian by birth, he’s the real deal; all of the music on this disc is in his blood. He’s on the violin faculty of the University of Tennessee’s School of Music, but the CD was recorded in 2010 in Sofia’s Bulgaria Chamber Hall, which provides a bright, vibrant acoustic setting for Hristov’s finely honed, richly hued tone and Vladimir Valjarevi?’s resonant piano. Bosnian-American Valjarevi? is on the piano faculty at Mannes College. Together the Hristov/Valjarevi? Duo seeks to promote the rich cultural heritage of their native Balkan region, and I have to say that with this album they go a long way toward achieving their mission.
This is an immensely enjoyable and rewarding release, and one that comes with the highest recommendation.
Exquisitely passionate!July 27, 2012By Jorge F. (Bayamon, PR)See All My Reviews"A rare treat these days, this album evokes such a wide range of emotions and images through technical virtuosity and unquestionable phrasing. The selections, while varied, include many enchanting melodies and sounds from traditional Balkan folk music. The different colors and musical nuances reflect the impeccable artistry of Hristov and Valjarevic who seem to infuse the music with intelligence and innate musicality. At times, Hristov's violin seems to cry a lament so illustrative of the region, particularly in Enescu's monumental Sonata for Vioin and Piano, No. 3, in the character of the Popular Romanian style. The same goes for the Vladigerov Song which seemingly transports listeners to rural Bulgaria. Other interesting works included Aleksandra Vrebalov's Eastern Chapel Meditations which used some sort of pre-recorded sounds to create some sort of an impressionistic ambiance in a drastic contest to the other works. Another interesting discovery was an Albanian Sonata by Cesk Zadeja. Lyrical and beautiful, Hristov and Valjarevic have done an enormous service to Zadeja and Albanian classical music. Unfortuntely, it is difficult to find a lot of recordings for Zadeja's music even though, according to the program notes, he is considered the "Father of Albanian Classical Music." The Greek work by Skalkottas was also an interesting including since it was mostly atonal. If nothing else, Skalkottas demonstrated the impeccable technical abilities of Hristov who effortlessly executed some wildly arpeggiated passages in both natural and harmonic tones, resulting in a simply brilliant recording. Music enthusiasts will not want to miss this unique and well put together album."Report Abuse