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Balkan Fever - The Kristian Järvi Sound Project
Georges ENESCU (1881-1955)
1. Romanian Rhapsody [11:58]
Balkan Music
2. Iovka Komarkova [5:57]
3. Strange Occasion [4:24]
Trio Improvisation
4. Koljo (traditional Macedonian songs and dances) [9:34]
Balkan Music
5. Say Bob [3:57]
6. Eleno [4:18]
7. Kite [6:38]
8. Yunus Emre [5:29]
9. Scherzo [6:26]
10. Fire Feast [5:13]
Trio Improvisation
11. Kalajdzisko Oro [5:29]
Balkan Music
12. Gipsy Dance [6:54]
Theodosii Spassov (kaval); Vlatko Stefanovski (guitar); Miroslav Tadić (guitar)
MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra/Kristjan Järvi (1-3, 5-10, 12)
trs. 2, 4, 11: arr. Theodosii Spassov, Vlatko Stefanovski and Miroslav Tadić; trs. 3, 5-10, 12 arr. for orchestra by Theodosii Spassov; tr. 9 composed by Theodosii Spassov and arr. K.Grosdanow.
rec. live, Gewandhaus, Leipzig, Germany, January 2013.
NAIVE V5395 [76.00]

Folk music has acted as inspiration in countless classical compositions. Discs like this help us to understand the source of these influences and why so many composers find music that has its roots among the common people so irresistible. Even though many of the tunes here have been brought into the 21st century their origins are still clearly defined. In fact the first piece is itself the quintessential example of folk-inspired music. Enescu, the best known and best loved Romanian composer, wrote two Romanian Rhapsodies. It was no surprise to read that the Bulgarian kaval player Theodosii Spassov was dumbfounded to discover that Enescu had composed these works in 1901 since they sound so freshly minted even today. On this disc we have the first and best known of the two; the one that has left Enescu’s name so indelibly on the minds of concert-goers ever since. Järvi and the Leipzig orchestra give a spirited performance. I only have one small quibble with it having listened to several other versions and that is that it is still a fraction too sanitized for my liking. I like mine earthier: see YouTube and a version played by the Chernivtsi Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra. They are still among the farms and fields rather than in the concert hall and I’m sure Enescu would have approved.
 
The rest of the disc is taken up with original folk music from the Balkan region arranged by the soloists. There's some decidedly modern tweaking here so some purists may object. I found the disc interesting and in any case I’m very fond of the music from the countries that make up the area, namely Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania and Turkey. With a population of around 60 million and covering some 666,000 square kilometres - not as appears incorrectly as 550 in the booklet notes - it is of no surprise that its music should be so diverse with so many influences at work. Iovka Komarkova, a traditional tune, introduces us to kaval player extraordinaire Theodosii Spassov whose mastery is a true joy. The orchestration gives it extra layers of interest, likewise the following tune Strange Occasion during which the orchestra also join in with some vocal sounds. Around 3:00 minutes in it was interesting to hear one of the soloists making sounds that reminded me of a rag played by Ravi Shankar in which the tabla player makes almost identical sounds. This again shows the universality of music and the myriad international influences. The traditional Macedonian pieces are improvised by the trio of soloists with some brilliant guitar playing alongside the kaval. There then follow six pieces of ‘Balkan’ music with an almost generic sound, at least to the non-specialist’s ear. All of them have that same beguiling nature that makes the music from this region so attractive and surely the most danceable in Europe. In Kite Theodosii Spassov performs some amazing feats of blowing; at times almost making his kaval speak by ‘talking’ into it. With the two guitarists it is impossible to know which one is playing when one of them solos but there is some very beautiful and dreamy playing in Yunus Emre. The theme in Scherzo is credited with being by Spassov and orchestrated by another. It is an extremely attractive tune while Fire Feast is a frantic and exciting round dance with a distinctively sounding Romanian flavour. Anyone who knows Klezmer music will also find its influence in these tunes and that’s what makes the Balkan region so interesting; it is a real melting pot for music. The penultimate piece Kalajdzisko Oro I assume is Bulgarian with its amazingly intricate melodies. The last tune, simply entitled Gipsy Dance is almost a synthesis of all that has gone before, a kind of musical summing up with Spassov, Stefanovski, Tadić and the orchestra giving it their all. It ends with a real flourish. During the entire programme, recorded in concert, the audience shows its lively appreciation with loud and at times tumultuous applause as well as hoots and whistles of approval.
 
This ‘project’ was the brainchild of conductor Kristjan Järvi. It took some years to bring to fruition, finding both the soloists and the music he wanted to include. He has however succeeded in creating a disc of infectiously joyous music that will be received enthusiastically by any devotees of world music and those who especially enjoy music from this fascinating, often troubled corner of Europe.
 
Steve Arloff