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Roumi PETROVA (b. 1970)
Passacaglia on a traditional Bulgarian melody for violoncello and piano (2004) [12:02]
Sonata 1 for cello and piano (2003) [21:02]
Sonata 2 in G minor for cello and piano (2005) [19:41]
Five Ancient Bulgarian Portraits for solo cello (1996) [12:02]
Kalin Ivanov (cello)
Elena Antimova (piano)

rec. October 2005, February 2006, Sam Levinson Recital Hall, Brooklyn College, New York. DDD
MSR CLASSICS  MS 1156 [64.50]
 


In April 2005 I reviewed another CD of Roumi Petrova’s music entitled “Project Bacillus Bulgaricus”. In that review I commented on Petrova’s style by saying that the works presented there did not challenge the boundaries of tonality and for the most part used their thematic material efficiently. I concluded, “Rhythmically catchy and tuneful, this release proves that contemporary composition can provide undemanding pleasure.”
 
Is my overall opinion of this latest disc any different? The short answer is no. All four of the works presented here were written for, and dedicated to, the cellist Kalin Ivanov. In the accompanying notes each work is the focus of barely two sentences, as concentration is given to the soloists and the composer. Roumi Petrova has been acclaimed as “the Bulgarian Mozart”, one learns. Surely this was more in recognition of her abilities as performer (violist) and composer than as a composer alone.
 
The Passacaglia that opens this disc is constructed in five connected sections to present variations on the main melody. Even if the variations are restricted to drawing out individual colours and moods in the playing for the Andante and Poco più mosso sections, the middle Allegro section does present some variation of material that usefully draws upon the full range of the cello. The succeeding Adagio possesses a soulful legato line, played with singing tone by Ivanov. The link into the final Allegro maestoso is well handled to bring the work to a climax. Having said that, Petrova’s style does make a climax inevitable, even if its compositional material is not totally predictable.
 
The first sonata starts with an opening movement – titled Journey – that has a palpable sense of flow about it, the thematic material affording richly sonorous playing from Ivanov. The slow movement, the most expansive on the disc, is an Elegy to Ivanov’s father, who died whilst the sonata was being written. Petrova affords many opportunities for introspection to both instrumental parts: the cello contrasts nobility and pride with enigmatic pianissimo playing; the piano underlines the movement’s character by intoning repeated chords akin to a peal of bells. The closing Rondo is, by contrast, rather playful in character, but makes skilful use of contrasting moods in the piano part especially.  Although there is much to recommend the incisive playing of Elena Antimova on a few occasions I did wish that her instrument had been recorded with just a bit more presence.
 
The second sonata can seem in some respects rather like the first. Petrova’s liking for exploring the range of her instruments is well established by now, as is her interweaving of Bulgarian-esque touches to give her writing at least an approximation of authentic character. The opening movement sees the instruments playing cat-and-mouse at a sprightly tempo, before settling into the appropriately elegiac Lullaby slow movement, that was originally planned for the first sonata. The sense of fun returns for the final movement, titled Table Dance, which comes from a joke shared between composer and cellist that the final movement should see him dance on a table.  It does have an upbeat tempo that one might indeed dance to if one was so inclined. Ivanov, however, restricts his involvement to providing some bouncy and fleetingly inflected playing, spurred on by Antimova.
 
The Five ancient Bulgarian portraits for solo cello that conclude the disc prove tuneful. I can imagine them being performed as a set or selected individual movements given as encores. The first portrait possesses a strange Bach-like quality in its repetition and predilection for the mid-lower range for much of its duration. The second portrait - Gypsy Man with a Dancing Bear - is much more upbeat and has a rather cultured roughness about it. The third portrait, Women at Harvest, is an image of stillness with overtones given over a ground at the beginning and end. The fourth portrait, The Monk and his Servant, possesses similar characteristics though played with greater dynamic range. The final portrait – Rebeck player – is somewhat hurried but gives opportunities to bring out contrasts of dynamic, tone and tempo. 
 
This well played music is momentarily diverting.
 
Evan Dickerson
 

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