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Dobrinka TABAKOVA (b.1980)
String Paths
Insight for string trio [9:35] 
Concerto for Cello and Strings [20:53] 
Frozen River Flows for violin, accordion and double bass [6:12] 
Suite in Old Style [18:35] 
Such different paths [16:57] 
Kristina Blaumane (cello); Maxim Rysanov (viola, conductor); Janine Jansen (violin); Roman Mints (violin); Julia-Maria Kretz (violin); Amihai Grosz (viola); Torleif Thedéen (cello); Boris Andrianov (cello); Raimondas Sviackevicius (accordion); Vaiva Eidukaityte-Storastiene (harpsichord); Stacey Watton (double bass); 
Donatas Bagurskas (double bass); Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra (concertmaster, Dzeraldas Bidva)
rec. National Philharmonic Hall, Vilnius, Lithuania, March/April 2011; Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Dahlem, Berlin, Germany, June 2011 
ECM NEW SERIES 2239 [72:22]

This album showcases music written between 2002 and 2008 by Bulgarian-born London resident composer Dobrinka Tabakova. It reflects the paths that have led to this music, much of it written with the performers here in mind. Several of them were fellow students of hers at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. As such there is a satisfying feeling of unity where all the various paths converge in collective artistic expression.
Insight  for string trio launches the disc. I was immediately struck by the richness of her writing which is emphasised by the way she has managed to integrate the three instruments in such a way as to create a sense of fusion: the three speak with a single voice. Despite elements of Bulgarian-sounding rhythms which open the piece there is much about this work that has overtones of 20th century British string writing with its pastoral feeling of rural calm.
In her Cello Concerto, after an opening movement that is described accurately as Turbulent, tense, we are treated to the most richly gorgeous sounds in the second movement entitled Longing bringing John Tavener to mind, particularly in the orchestral sections. This is hardly surprising since he is motivated as a member of the Orthodox Church to incorporate the sounds and rhythms of chants that have a home in Russia and Bulgaria. The cello seems to soar heavenwards yearningly seeking some kind of spiritual fulfilment. This it certainly delivers to the listener in the form of a calm and cleansing feeling of peace. The final movement entitled Radiant is precisely that implying that the desire expressed in the middle movement has been realised. The music is suffused in light.
Tabakova’s Frozen River Flows is scored for the unusual combination of violin, accordion and double bass. It was inspired, as she explains in the booklet notes, by watching the flowing of a river beneath a carpet of ice. Originally composed for an equally unusual combination of oboe and percussion, the accordion acting as a drone. It seems well suited to conjure up the icy feel while the violin emphasises the fragility of the ice and the double bass lends a solidity to which the other elements of winter, which are transient, will return once the ice eventually melts.
With her Suite in Old Style Tabakova joins an illustrious band of composers who have been drawn to re-examining the music of the past through 20th and 21st century eyes, including Górecki, Schnittke and Penderecki as well as Respighi. The work was written for her one-time fellow Guildhall student. Violist Maxim Rysanov who is constantly seeking to commission works to help extend the viola’s repertoire. That’s something to applaud; why should the violin have the lion’s share of string works? This is a feeling that is even more powerfully felt when listening to this which is so wonderfully rich in sonority. She has brilliantly captured the essence of the past shining it through a 21st century prism. The addition of a harpsichord has reminded us that it too should be used more often since it is an instrument that could have as much musical relevance today as it did in the past. She also had the neat idea of using the musical notation of the name of Rameau, another inspiration in writing this work, in part of the final section, rather than using any direct quotations.
The last work on this disc is Such different paths for string septet which violinist Janine Jansen, who plays here, approached Tabakova to write. Introducing each instrument in turn she has them all blend together in a meeting at the end of their respective paths that once again reflects the overall idea of the album. It is another richly rewarding and sumptuously scored musical feast.
There was a time about ten or so years ago when all kinds of doom and gloom was expressed about the future of recordings, orchestras, concerts and even for music itself. With a whole new generation of composers, performers, record labels and downloads the future of music is as secure today as real ale is after the parlous state it was in before the ‘real ale revolution’ took place. When we have composers such as Dobrinka Tabakova at the very threshold of her career and artists such as those playing on this record we need have no fear for the future of music. It will last as long as people like her write and people like us listen. This disc is full of music to delight and wonder at. It is played superlatively and with ECM’s usual attention to maintaining its benchmark standards in sound.
Steve Arloff 

See also review by Rob Barnett