In 1987 (it seems like only yesterday), Nonesuch Records released an album called Le mystère des voix bulgares (979165-2) and it galvanized a huge chunk of the listening audience, from folkies and world music buffs to classical fans whose heads were not lodged not too far up their ivory towers. It was comprised of older recordings made in Bulgaria by one Marcel Cellier, and it featured the "Bulgarian State Radio and Television Female Vocal Choir" doing things with their voices that most choirs only dreamed of, all at the service of Bulgarian folk traditions. Most of the songs were wracked with exquisite pain and nostalgia; there were a few upbeat ones too, full of an angular energy that was almost jazzy. The singing was at once primitive and refined. How did these women match their pitch, vibrato, and timbres with such precision? Where was this phenomenal accuracy coming from? It was hard to believe that mere humans were capable of such singing.
As with most things, the "Voix bulgares" craze faded with time, but here's a new CD that might bring it back in spades. Vesselina Kasarova has established herself as this generation's Marilyn Horne – a mezzo-soprano who kicks proverbial butt in the bel canto repertoire. Now, coming from this position of strength, she has returned to her homeland and joined some of its musicians in a program which picks up where the Nonesuch disc (and its successors) left off.
Kasarova, it must be said, is a remarkable singer. Her voice is attractive and even throughout its range, and she has tremendous agility and control. She clearly is possessed of an unusual intelligence as well. Soloing in some these songs, joining the chorus in others, she sounds right at home, although it is evident she put as much care into this recording as she would put into a Rossini showpiece. The booklet even includes her brief comments about each of the songs, and her longer essay about the general repertoire.
Kyurkchiyski's arrangements appeared on the original Nonesuch disc (along with those of Philip Koutev). Here, given infinitely superior engineering and an even more polished choir – to say nothing of Kasarova's star-power – they make an almost overwhelming impact. One doesn't know which to admire more: the gentle and melancholy beauty of the melodies, the brilliance of the arrangements, or the virtuosity of the performances. Better to admire all three equally, I guess.
RCA Red Seal's presentation of this disc is gorgeous; even texts and translations have been included. Kasarova is an international treasure. With this CD she has reminded the world of what a treasure is to be found within the Bulgarian folk music tradition. This is life-enhancing stuff, and everyone will want to know what this cool music is, whether you are playing it in your car, your cubicle at work, or in your kitchen.
Copyright © 2004, Raymond Tuttle