Uzbekistan is a remarkable land. Landlocked with five or six other central Asian republics between Russia, China, India, Iran, and Turkey, it has managed to retain a distinctive identity. Its classical song form is instantly recognizable: an ensemble of lute(s), possibly fiddle and hammer dulcimer, and frame drums all playing at mid-tempo and all in the service of a quavery but powerful voice. Improvisation is not allowed and so there is none of the meandering quality that Middle Eastern or Indian music sometimes has.
Monajat Yultchieva is a disciplined mezzo-soprano, perhaps the top female classical singer of Uzbekistan. What she does is undeniably moving, but unfortunately she never gets out of second gear. While each piece does build to an impressive emotional climax, the sameness of the pattern and the general dragginess of the pace are oppressive after awhile. Some relief comes near the end of the album with the song of unrequited love "Saqiname-i Bayat," a slightly faster piece that sounds a little like Chinese music. It is followed by the typically slow but immensely atmospheric "Dashti-i Nava." This album would be good for the advanced listener to Uzbeki music, but for everyone else From Samarkand to Bukhara: A Musical Journey Through Uzbekistan on the Long Distance label is recommended.