It's hard to tell from the packaging what the potential buyer of this album is getting. The program presents music by Mikhail Vysotsky, a popular Russian guitarist active in the early 19th century, and other composers. Vysotsky's surviving compositions are for solo guitar, but only one of his pieces, The Flowers Have Faded, is performed as notated; the rest, which include music by other composers, is intended as a speculative reconstruction of a kind of music-making in which Vysotsky is known to engaged: late-night, semi-improvised performances with the "gypsies of Moscow" named in the title. This involves the addition, separately or together, of a violin and a second Russian seven-string guitar, a delightful instrument that may well be worth the purchase price for some. But the evidence for the authenticity of this reconstruction seems thin. Instrumental works are also interspersed with songs, performed by group leader Anne Harley, a soprano specializing in Baroque music. The rest of the musicians are Russian. All this results in a varied program that sounds exotic enough to the listener who is completely unfamiliar with Vysotsky or with popular music-making of this period, and this will be most listeners. Russian guitar music is not exactly a common find, and some may wish to hear a bit more of Vysotsky in its original form. Nor is the lack of texts for the vocal music helpful to the general listener. But the tunes, both vocal and instrumental, are undeniably intriguing; they come from a time when Western influences in Russian music might serve as a flavor rather than as a structural principle, and there's considerable beauty in the work of the individual performers. Sample the vocal solo Remember My Beloved (track 15); it will make you want to hear more of Harley's work. Perhaps of more interest to those familiar with the traditions involved than to general listeners, this album should find a place in large collections of Russian music.
Mikhail Vysotsky and the Gypsies of Moscow Review
by James Manheim