Monday, September 07, 2009

Quartet Eolina and Valya Balkanska & Petar Yanev

This was a concert being held on the occasion of the Day of Bulgarian Education and Culture, with the kind sponsorship of the Bulgarian Embassy. It was one of those Hugh Lane Gallery at noon on Sundays concerts that we sometimes go to, although like many of the recent ones it was on in City Hall (an all-foyer building featuring many statues of prominent Irish historical figures, including one guy who looks like he has had to quickly grab a towel after being caught wandering around without any trousers).

The concert was a game of two halves. The Quartet Eolina are a chamber ensemble playing classical music, albeit with the unusual feature of having a harpist as well as a flautist, pianist, and violist. The other two were a singer and bagpiper respectively, playing Bulgarian folk music.

The Quartet played first, and stunned me with the beauty of their playing. They began with variations by Corelli on "La Folia". This did not seem to be a particularly adventurous piece, being entirely melodic and belonging clearly to the world of tonal classical music, but it would be difficult to exaggerate how much I liked it. It seemed to be almost like a perfect piece of music, simple yet stunning in its music and expertly played by the Quartet. I think maybe set and setting were important here, as the concert was providing a much needed break from the stressful business of packing and moving.

The Quartet Eolina played some other pieces, including one piece by Vladislav Andonov of the Quartet, amusingly composed in an imagined Celtic style. Valya Balkanska and Petar Yanev then took over for a bit. Ms Balkanska sings in a style broadly reminiscent of the Trio Bulgarka. It is an unusual vocal form – singing in a folk tradition but in a manner reminiscent of operatic vocals, given the level of control and virtuosity involved. The programme describes Ms Balkanska as having a 'cosmic voice' – that does give you a sense of what she sounds like, though it was meant as a nod to her great claim to fame, her inclusion on the golden disc of Earth music that was sent out into space on one of the Voyager probes*.

Petar Yanev complimented Ms Balkanska well. Like her, he was dressed in traditional Bulgarian costume, though his featured not one but two pistols rakishly stowed at his belt. Perhaps these come in handy at the notoriously rowdy folk music clubs of Sofia.

The concert finished with a piece for Valya Balkanska and all the musicians, composed by Petar Yanev and Vladislaw Antonov. And then the Bulgarian Embassy hosted a reception where they plied us with most excellent Bulgarian wine! Result. Sadly we had to return to our move before I got so tanked that I started explaining their country's history to the various Bulgarians present.

* It's worth looking up the tracklisting of this record on the Internet, as it provides an interesting idea of what people in the 1970s thought was the greatest music ever produced by humanity. It seems like every country in the world, or at least a great many of them, got to nominate tunes for it. And many of them nominate piece by Bach, even countries with no link to that composer.

This reminds me of recently hearing a very old Denis Healey on Desert Island Disks. "Bach would have to be one of the three greatest musicians the world has ever produced", he argued, "together with Beethoven and Har Mar Superstar".

The Voyager music is, sadly, not commercially available as a compilation.

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