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Project Bacillus Bulgaricus

Bacillus Bulgaricus for Piano Quartet (2003) (a) [26:48]
Rodopa Suite for String Quartet (2001) (b) [10:39]
Poem for Violin and String Quartet (2002) (c) (b) [8:09]
Pictures from Bulgaria (1999) (b) [7:14]
Sonata for Violoncello and Piano (2003) (d) [20:17]
(a) Bulgarian Piano Quartet: Krasimira Ivanova (violin), Roumi Petrova (viola), Kalin Ivanov (cello), Elena Antimova (piano)
(b) The Forte String Quartet: Mikhail Kuchov, Alexander Abeyev (violins), Roumi Petrova (viola), Kalin Ivanov (cello)
(c) Yuri Kharenko (violin)
(d) Kalin Ivanov (cello), Elena Antimova (piano)
Rec. New York, 2003; DDD

A year or two back mezzo-soprano Vesselina Kasarova brought out 'Bulgarian Soul' on the RCA label. It was a disc that presented arrangements of traditional Bulgarian folk-tales and tunes. With this private release, composer and performer Roumi Petrova also aims to bring elements of traditional Bulgarian music to a wider public. The five works on this CD show some of Petrova's chamber compositions from recent years. She mostly avoids quoting or reusing existing 'folk' material, although undoubtedly the influence is felt throughout. In this respect, these works can best be described as being of Bulgarian character rather than directly within a specific style.

Petrova, Bulgarian-born and now resident in New York, documents how it was only when she left her native land that she discovered an interest in the country's music. Like other countries in the region - Romania, Ukraine, Hungary - geographical position played a large part in forming a native culture based, in her words, on "immense rhythmic and melodic diversity [...] the live culture living in the milk, waiting for the right conditions to turn it into a tangy yogurt." The works whilst not tonally challenging, for the most part use their material efficiently; but do not seek to stretch it to the limits that a more adventurous compositional mind might have sought.

Bacillus Bulgaricus opens inwardly and reflectively, followed by a Balkanised French menuet, Gypsy dance and song. Although heavily laden with irregular rhythms the work's structure only makes these overtly apparent at times. Otherwise, sonority and mood seem to be the chief concerns of this and other compositions. The piano quartet play with a clear sense of inflection for the line, with individual instruments nicely voiced.

The Rodopa suite again is a construct of European classical forms and Balkan modes. The fughetta gently layers each instrument on top of each other - viola then violins underlined by cello. Elsewhere, as in the Poem for Violin and String Quartet, there is a reliance on unison playing, a typically Balkan concern, but also incorporating tonal pulling of the violin lines. Pictures from Bulgaria and the Sonata draw some inspiration from existing folk materials. There is concern for tone and flair in the performance of these works. Where required there is conventional fullness of tone, but moreover there is a desire to communicate something that is felt within that cannot be written or taught musically.

Recommended then not only for those interested in Eastern European musical influences and fine, characterful chamber playing. Rhythmically catchy and tuneful, this release proves that contemporary composition can provide undemanding pleasure, but those after more substantial fare will quickly look elsewhere.

Evan Dickerson


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