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Sylvie BODOROVÁ (b.1954)
Ja Ra Laj - Suite on folk motives and texts; 27 Slovak, Balkan and Roma songs (2009) [55:12]
Štefan Margita (tenor)
Martina Bačová (violin)
Jitka Hosprová (viola)
Irvin Venyš (clarinet)
Kateřina Englichová (harp)
Markéta Mazourová (percussion)
Quattro Orchestra (Pavla Franců (violin); Karel Chudý (cello))/Marek Štilec
rec. Lichtenstein Palace, Prague, February 2009
ARCO DIVA UP 0110-2 131 [55:12]

Experience Classicsonline

I've yet to hear anything by Sylivie Bodorová I didn't like. I first heard her Concerto dei Fiori on a Panton album about twelve years ago, a disc played to me by an on-the-ball record shop owner in Mala Strana in Prague, so amazed I hadn't asked for anything by Mozart or Dvořák that he shut his shop for half an hour and played me samples from his in-tray.

Since then she has been represented quite prolifically on disc and commissions have enriched her worklist still further. She has collaborated with great success with tenor Štefan Margita and it was he who chose her to work on Ja Ra Laj, which is a suite of twenty seven folk songs inspired by Slovak, Roma and Montenegrin/Serbian texts and melodies. Both musicians grew up in Slovakia and both have an interest in the indigenous folklore of both the country and of the Roma population. The confluence of interests has proved decisive, and winning.

Once selected, Bodorová set to work on the melodies and the instrumentation. Some melodic lines were kept intact whilst others were more freely honoured. Some texts have been combined. She has taken great expressive and stylistic care over the timbres and colours of each song, employing a solo instrument in support of the voice or a fuller complement of chamber-sized strings, or varying between these extremes. The youthful supporting artists include a rising violin star, Martina Bačová, a by-now quite well established young violist with a splendid back catalogue to her name, Jitka Hosprová, and one of the country's best harpists in the shape of Kateřina Englichová. The first class clarinettist is Irvin Venyš whilst matters percussive are in the vital hands of a young maestro of the skins and mallets, Markéta Mazourová. The Quattro Orchestra, directed by Marek Štilec, is at the helm.

The varied colours, rhythms, ensembles and timbres prove effervescent and expressive throughout. The Wolves' Congress sounds like a second cousin of Janáček's little mosquito song - its onomatopoeia is infectious and the taut setting exudes a Peggy Glanville-Hicks exuberance and rhythmic freedom. Cleverly this Slovak song is then followed by the Balkan selection in which clarinet and cimbalon imitation are to the fore and in When A Gypsy Got Married, some frenzied fiddling as well. Torpor haunts the fields in Squeaking Winch and that's immediately contrasted with the dramatic accusation of You, Girl where Margita's stage experience really tells - he sings throughout with great sensitivity whether dramatic, interior, outgoing or mourning and files down his tone splendidly when need be.

The rest of the Slovak songs embrace 'village' percussion and cleverly evoke small details through the simplest means - the mower for example in A Meadow to be Mown. Am I imagining the similarity of What is my sorrow to the five note X Files theme or is that an ungracious thought? Two of the most explicitly lamenting or harrowing songs are both Slovak - Wait, Girl and Mother Mine and the ballad melancholy runs deep and strong in both; the latter is the more desolate and string-hewn; rapt singing and playing too. The Roma songs take on water, food and girls and even cars. The harp ripples in Water in the Stream, and the Roma 'anthem' is celebrated in the viola-rich A Little Roma Girl whilst the cello laments in I Am Hungry, Mama - and then perks up. Parlando self-questioning pushes the expressive boundaries further, as in To Go Home, and the chamber band proves estimable in Automobiles. In general the Roma songs are the most unbuttoned.

These songs are richly crafted but not burdened by either the precious or the inflated. They are natural sounding, wholesome, and sound - in fact - of the soil and the root. They have been written with affection and honesty and are beautifully performed by all and sundry. The brief synopsis of each song will have to serve, as there are no texts, but you will get the gist every time.

Jonathan Woolf


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