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Bulgarian Musical Evenings in Munich: Special SelectionPancho VLADIGEROV (1899-1978)
Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op 1 [24:38]
Alexander RAICHEV (1922-2003)
Three Fragments from the ballet ‘Rebel’s Song’ [10:26] *
Yovcho KRUSWHEV (b. 1957)
Sonata-Elegy for Viola and Piano [10:41] *
Pancho VLADIGEROV (1899-1978)
Bulgarian Rhapsody ‘Vardar’ for Two Pianos, Op 16 [6:52]
Marian Kraew (violin); Ivajla Kirova (piano); Nadejda Vlaeva, Ivajla Kirova (piano duo); Maria Hristova (viola)
rec. 20 October and 28 November 2015, Hubertussaal, Nymphenburg Palace, Munich, Germany
* World-première recording

There is no special significance in the fact that this CD was recorded in Munich’s Nymphenburg Palace. All the composers are Bulgarian, as are the performers, although the violinist Marian Kraew was actually born in Germany, the son of Bulgarian musicians. All the same, the Hubertussaal, which can seat an audience of some four hundred, provides an ideal acoustic environment for the chamber music heard on this CD.

Swiss-born Pancho Vladigerov, whose three-movement Violin Sonata, Op 1 introduces this musical soiree, is arguably the most influential Bulgarian composer known internationally. Like certain of his fellow-musicians particularly in neighbouring countries, he successfully combined – for the first time in Bulgaria – indigenous folk idioms with that of Western classical music. The Sonata – his first mature work – opens with an impassioned ‘Agitato’, in high-romantic spirit, well-crafted for both players, and full of attractive writing. It is in the central ‘Andante cantabile’ that melody and harmony presage a composer for whom the music of his nation will later form a large and significant part of his output – see the Bulgarian Rhapsody that ends this recital. For its first three minutes or so, the movement is full of glorious romantic outpourings, before a march-like section in the major ensues. Vladigerov finely judges the effect of this interjection, allowing more than sufficient time for a timely reprise of the movement’s melancholic opening theme – altogether a decided tear-jerker à la Rachmaninov. The opening of the finale – ‘Allegro con brio’ – makes some effective use of whole-tone harmony in the introduction, before the vigorous dance theme emerges. The first episode is suitably romantic and expansive, contrasting most effectively with the music before it. The dance section resumes, again making good use of both whole-tone harmony and shifting chromaticism, before the key shifts to the minor for the second episode, again marking a substantial decrease in tempo. Once again this not only provides variety, but allows for more heartfelt melody to flow from the composer’s pen. Not surprisingly there follows a build-up to what we expect will be a return of the dance, but Vladigerov re-introduces his first episode in the overall build up, which becomes more and more passionate as the music rises chromatically to its somewhat abrupt, yet nonetheless effective close.

The second composer on the CD is Alexander Raichev, who studied in Sofia with Vladigerov, and others. In 1982, one of Raichev’s students, Yovcho Krushev produced a transcription of Three Fragments from Raichev’s ballet ‘Rebel’s Song’ for his teacher’s sixtieth birthday. This later became the required work for the Duo Piano Competition in Tokyo, in 2002. The opening piece – Nights - has a jazzy start, with a strongly-defined beat, and very soon breaks out into scales and chord progressions that seem to combine both jazz elements with those of some exotic scales from the east. This subsequently impregnates most of the writing, creating a piece full of both majesty and inventive harmonies, though with some more reflective sections and a soft ending. The Sycophants opens with bold octaves before a pulsating, almost train-like rhythm kicks in, imbuing the music with greater momentum as a catchy, and once-more exotic melody weaves its way over the top. There is an abrupt ending as A Haydouk Dance segues immediately. This is slightly reminiscent of the repeated low notes in Liszt’s ‘Mephisto Waltz’, but now rhythmically more complex, leaning heavily on the exotic style of writing found in a composer such as Khachaturian, when expressing the music of his Armenian homeland – a country at the opposite end of the Black Sea.. The movement gathers great force and is no doubt as much fun to play, in this two-piano version, as it is to listen to.

Krushev now appears as a composer in his own right, with his two-movement Sonata-Elegy for Viola and Piano. He composed this in 1985 and it immediately became very popular. The opening ‘Andante misterioso’ starts exactly as the tempo indication would suggest – there are distinct ethnic influences here in the writing, mainly through the harmonies and scales employed. From the quietly-sinister opening, the music builds up to a climax, but then falls back again for a somewhat inconclusive close, although the second movement – ‘Maestoso tempo moderato’ soon picks up the momentum again, with some much more virtuosic and demanding writing for both players. This leads to a gentler, altogether more expressive section. This, however, is short-lived, as the music soon rushes headlong again, with a token fugal section along the way, before broadening out once more, to usher back a return of the movement’s opening theme. Despite a few more false starts, it finally seems that a ‘big ending’ is now not far away, but once more the composer goes for an understated ending, as if stepping off the bus before it has come to a full stop.

Vladigerov’s Bulgarian Rhapsody ‘Vardar’, first appeared in a version for violin and piano. It was later transcribed for orchestra alone, violin and orchestra, piano, and for two violins. The version for two pianos, which ends the CD, was written in 1976. It follows the time-honoured design of a slow opening section, with an energetic and high-spirited dance to close. Vladigerov adopts this pattern, but inserts a reprise of the opening slow section, before letting rip on the ending. No understatement here – the Rhapsody goes out in an exciting blaze of glory.
If you’re not familiar with Bulgarian music, or some of its chamber music, then this CD could be an ideal way to get started. The performances and recording are all tip-top, and Vladigerov’s Violin Sonata could hold its own against many others. Even if not highly-innovative from the formal standpoint, its twenty-five minutes or so of drop-dead gorgeous melody should certainly lift the spirits – and surely we can all do with that from time to time. The booklet (in English/German) gives relatively little information about the music itself, but then, most if not all of it simply speaks for itself.

Philip R Buttall



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