Balalaika-Ensemble Wolga

Sabre Dance

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While there's a definite whiff of the tourist market about this, there's no denying the superb playing on the pieces, many of which will be at least vaguely familiar to many ears. However, while the liner notes give no indication, the CD sounds like the work of two bands. The opening "Sabre Dance" is accordion and xylophone, while the rest is certainly the Balalaika Ensemble in all their glory, showing their mastery on classics like "Evening in Moscow," "Guelder Rose," and the balladic "The Lonely Bell Is Ringing." The bayan (or Russian accordion) player S. Garanin is a standout, not only offering a chordal bed for the strings, but plenty of virtuoso flourishes himself. However, besides the fairly cliched choice of material, there's one other big problem with this disc -- the recording itself. All too often the crash of the cymbal drowns out the quieter tone of the higher strings, and the accordion is front and center when it shouldn't be, making listening into a more demanding experience than it ought to be; blame the producer, who obviously wasn't working too hard. It would be interesting to hear this band -- who is like a less-manic Terem Quartet -- trying something more challenging with someone who knew what he was doing at the control board.

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