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Georgian Journey – Secular and Sacred Vocal Music
Antchis Chati Choir/Malchaz Erkvanidze
Tsinandali Choir
Three elderly singers (Karlo Urushadze, Guri Sikharulidze, Tristan Sikharulidze)
Recorded Summer 2003 on location in Georgia
RAUM KLANG RK 2304-1/2 [78.43 + 67.45]

The indigenous music of Georgia is extremely old; the distinctive modes seems to have been in place over 3000 years ago and the earliest surviving written sources, which date from the 11th century, give testimony to the remarkable development of vocal polyphony. Recent research has suggested that the Georgian tonal system predates the Greek by 1000 years; some researchers go further and suggest that the Georgian polyphonic tradition is the origin of the European polyphonic tradition.

And that is the fascinating thing about the music of the region; unlike neighbouring countries, the music of Georgia is polyphonic in a way which is rare in European folk traditions.

This disc, which explores the various Georgian regional traditions, was produced on a shoe string by a German team travelling the country in an old VW bus. Using an emergency generator and a small selection of sound engineering equipment they recorded in venues as diverse as an old monastery, an abandoned cinema and a former cultural centre. It is a testament to the recording engineers’ skill that whilst listening to these two fascinating discs I was not particularly aware of the difficult conditions under which they were made.

The bulk of the material is sung by the Antchis Chati Choir. Formed in 1987 by a group of enthusiastic ethnomusicologists, the twelve members of the group come from all walks of life. They double as a church choir so the group is familiar with the riches of both the Georgian secular and sacred traditions. The whole of the first disc and half the second disc are devoted to secular music from various regions of Georgia and the latter half of the second disc explores the region’s ancient sacred music.

The choir makes a rich, vibrant sound, the vocalism is very throaty and the individual voices are very free but at no time do you feel that the group is out of control or that, conversely, they are being over-cautious in the way of classical musicians singing in folk traditions. The result is something which never needs apologise for its sound-world and which convinces as an accurate and admirable representation of the local traditions.

The nearest comparison that I can come up with, in terms of the sound-world of the discs, is in the work of Marcel Peres and his group Ensemble Organum where they experiment with performing early Roman chant in styles which mix in folk tradition and middle-Eastern vocal traditions. The result, as far as I am concerned, is completely entrancing.

Not all of the disc is taken by the Antchis Chati Choir. One group of secular songs is performed by three elderly men from Gurien. The presence of these men (Karlo Urushade, Guri Sikharulidze and Tristan Sikharulidze) is not explained in the liner notes but we must assume that they are real performers in the folk tradition, and their contribution is vivid indeed. Other guests on the disc are the Tsinandali Choir, a seven man group, whose contributions are equally welcome.

The sacred section of the disc starts with the bells of the Motsama Monastery and the whole disc concludes with an evocative farewell to Georgia.

Sebastian Pank writes amusingly in the liner notes of his trials and tribulations whilst doing these recordings. We must be grateful to him as they reveal a fascinatingly rich and varied alternative polyphonic vocal tradition. That this tradition still flourishes is a testament to the groups performing on this disc. This is a set which should be of interest to many musicians, but it is much more than that. The performances have an immediacy and vibrancy which is completely entrancing and the discs have accompanied us on the car stereo in many of our own journeys.

Robert Hugill



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