Devotees of folk-based European choral singing in general, and of the best-selling discs of the Bulgarian Women's Choir in particular, may well be fascinated by this disc from the Folk Choir of the Philip Koutev National School of Folk Arts in Koutel, Bulgaria. The choristers are all girls, and whatever it is that's producing talented choirs in Bulgaria is fully operative here despite the youth of the singers. It's a bit hard to know what one is hearing. The music is in Bulgarian, and none of it is translated, not even the titles. Space that might be devoted to general descriptions of the music is instead given over to commentary from the girls involved -- charming, to be sure ("My song is a shining smile after a tear," from 10th grader Dessislava, or "Our enigmatic music gives us everything that we need in order to exist!," from her classmate Ivelina). Despite the designation of the group as a folk choir, the music would certainly not all be called folk music in Western countries. Some of it is quite dissonant, and most of the pieces have named composers rather than being attributed to tradition. Among the most interesting of all is a 10-minute selection entitled Tunes from Infinity (here, inexplicably, only an English title is given). It would have been very helpful to know what this was, especially inasmuch as it's gorgeous and deeply moving. Built of long call-and-response units, it appears to bear a strong stamp of Middle Eastern melody and vocal ornamentation. The young soloist has to sustain very long lines, execute difficult ornamentation, and negotiate difficult intervals such as a new solo that begins a minor second above the final and tonal center of the previous chorus, all of which she does with precision and a compelling snap. The choir handles difficult close harmonies with aplomb in arrangements that would have bogged down even some of the top Western youth choirs, and in general the level of technical accomplishment is startling. This is a real find, highly recommended to anyone with even a glancing acquaintance with the style involved, and perhaps an introduction to some future stars of European folk music.
At Daybreak Review
by James Manheim