Balanescu Quartet

Maria T

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Widely known for his performances of music by Michael Nyman and Gavin Bryars, Alexander Balanescu is gradually achieving recognition for his own compositions, particularly those celebrating the culture of his native Romania. Maria T is a cycle of pieces based on the songs of Maria Tanase, a popular Romanian singer of the 1940s and '50s whose music Balanescu reinterprets for his own ensemble, the Balanescu String Quartet, and percussionist Steve Arguelles. There are some aspects of this work that may seem calculated to appeal to a crossover audience: the music is occasionally spiced with energetic rock and world beat rhythms to draw in pop fans, but the underlying flavor is a mix of soft classical and minimalist styles which, early on, seem bland and uninspired. Others may find Balanescu has come too close in imitating Nyman in such numbers as Aria and Lullaby, which sound uncomfortably like soundtrack excerpts from a Peter Greenaway film. Yet Balanescu's homage to Tanase is sincere, and his fresh accompaniments to her vocals on Life and Death, Mountain Call, and Wine's So Good are transparently scored and appropriately shaded. Unfortunately, her voice samples have been processed to sound remote and echoic, and make her seem unnecessarily ghostly. Otherwise, the sound quality is fine.

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