The Balkan Project (CD review)

Cavatina Duo: Eugenia Moliner, flute; Denis Azabagic, guitar. Cedille CDR 90000 117.

The Balkan Project celebrates the varied music of the Balkans: Greece, Macedonia, Albania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, and parts of Turkey and Romania. There's a little here of the folk music of all these countries, done up in modern arrangements for guitar and flute. And varied the music surely is, given that the area has seen the influences of numerous other peoples for about as long as history has recorded such things.

The Cavatina Duo (flutist Eugenia Moliner and guitarist Denis Azabagic) are wonderfully expressive in the music, creating little mood pieces in each of the short works on the program. The pair are flawless virtuosos, fully in command of the music and able to communicate it as fluidly, I would imagine, as any other performers could do for any possible audience. If the duo sound possibly more suave, more polished, more sophisticated than the traditional or folk or gypsy music suggests, you can't blame the performers for simply being so good.

Among the sixteen works on the album, things begin with "Raven Dance" from Serbia, a party or wedding dance with a zesty appeal. After that tangy opening number, we get "Kad ja podjoh na Bembasu," an old Bosnian song of longing and passion. Then, there's "Eleno, Kerko Eleno," a Macedonian love song, followed by "Kalajdzisko Oro," or "The Tin Smith's Dance," with its splendid interplay of harmonies skipping on a breeze.

"Psevdah No 2" was inspired by a Bosnian song called "Clear Water." Evoking more of a clear sadness, it is one of the highlights of the disc, if a little gloomy. I think you're getting the idea. All of the music seems calculated to elicit some melancholic spirit, perhaps a reflection of the turbulence in the Balkan area over the years.

A few other pieces I enjoyed: "Sivi grivi," a Bulgarian dance with exotic-sounding rhythms; "Kopanitsa da Kalantchatska," also from Bulgaria and also providing swirling dance rhythms; and "The Shepherd's Dream" from Croatia, probably the most markedly beautiful tune in the collection.

As for Cedille's sound, it goes without saying that this small company continues to provide fine sonics. This time, engineer Bill Maylone mikes the two performers either very closely together, producing almost a monaural effect, with the stereo from the two channels creating a sweet ambient bloom around the instruments; or a little farther apart, widening the stereo field. In any case, the overall acoustic is soft, warm, and ultrasmooth, quite pleasant, actually, for easy listening, although somewhat devoid of sparkle. Occasionally, the recording shows off with a strong transient impact or a wide dynamic response, but mostly it is content to reflect a natural, realistic aural image.

One final note: The folks at Cedille are not big on self-promotion. There is practically nothing in the disc's artwork, front or back cover, to indicate to a potential buyer just what the album is all about. The Balkan Project could just as well be the name of a punk-rock band for all I would have known. I only mention this because it's the kind of album people might easily pass over if they didn't know exactly what they were looking for.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa