Various Artists

Mahagita: Harp and Vocal Music of Burma

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While Indian classical music is widely known, that of neighboring Burma, or Myanmar, as it's now officially known, has received precious little exposure. These pieces, from the thachin gyi, or great song, repertoire, from the Mahagita collection, offer an insight into that tradition. Featuring a 16-string arched harp, along with a vocalist (who also utilizes two small percussion instruments), they're not easy listening, with winding melodies and great restraint of vocal emotion. But listen closer and there's an exquisite beauty in their clarity. Inle Myint Maung, who died in 2001, was a superb harpist, able to draw exquisite tones from the instrument (just listen to his coda on "Rain and a Princess"), and Daw Yi Yi Thant offers wonderful diction, an important factor given the pronunciation variations within the Burmese language. In this music it's most certainly not a case of the harp accompanying the singer; the two carry absolutely equal weight, working together on the song. Given the seeming lack of interest in this style among the younger generation, this stands as an important document and a record of one of the arched harp's greatest exponents. But it's more than that -- it's gorgeous music that can stand alone.

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