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Steven Ritter
Audiophile Audition, March 2008

The first movement is almost a tone poem unto itself, tragic, sensitively engaged with exploring the more reticent and retiring aspects of the flutes.

Phillip Scott
Fanfare, June 2007

"Both of these works contain enjoyable passages. (I love the drum whack heralding the first big orchestral statement in the Double-Flute Concerto's second movement.) The disc is well recorded and brilliantly played. Bernold is clearly a musician to watch, while Gallois and Collard need no introduction and sell their respective concertos for all they are worth—and possibly even more."

American Record Guide, June 2007

Bulgarian Emil Tabakov (b.1947) appears to be in residence as conductor in the Turkish city of Bilkent, whose fine symphony orchestra is on display here. As a conductor, which seems to be his primary vocation, Mr Tabakov has significant interest in keeping his audience pleased, so these pieces are firmly modal and clearly designed to be aesthetically unobjectionable.

The Concerto for Two Flutes (2000) is in two lengthy movements. The first contrasts two languorous themes: a sad chromatic melody over a sustained, quiet tall-chord harmony and a simple, rising diatonic figure given in canon. Both alternate repeatedly for 15 minutes. The finale is a lively Eastern dance with bumptious maracas, tambourines, and a tamburo bulgaro. It's simplistic and repetitious, and general audiences will find it a lot of fun. The stretto ending should have the crowd going wild.

The Piano Concerto (2003) was written to celebrate the anniversary of the Turkish army (founded 209 BC), which accounts for the fanfare motive that opens the piece. The mildly exotic and jovially splashy atmosphere is reminiscent of Khachaturian, with some Bulgarian Bizet thrown in for good measure. The sleepy slow movement extends the exotica idea into ritualistic gongs, pipes, reeds, harps, chant, and birdies. The virtuoso finale hits the repeated note button, makes a pass at Rimsky, and flies to the requisite standing-ovation climax. "The music speaks in a contemporary language without startling the listener or making him feel unprepared", as the notes put it. Well, I wasn't startled, and I didn't feel unprepared. If that's what you're looking for, go for it. Soloists are excellent.

Hubert Culot
MusicWeb International, May 2007

"These performances by top-rank soloists nicely supported by a very responsive orchestra conducted by the composer are all very fine, and well recorded."

David Blomenberg
MusicWeb International, April 2007

This disc has been my introduction to the work of Tabakov. The liner-notes for this release rather amusingly describe the composer as someone “who used to be an excellent double bass player.” Tabakov has quite a number of recordings to his credit, almost exclusively with the Sofia Philharmonic under his baton; he was conductor for the Sofia Philharmonic, according to the information found on his website, from 1988 until 2000. More recently, he is the conductor of the Ankara-based Bilkent Symphony Orchestra, the ensemble we have here for this disc. Tabakov currently has six symphonies to his credit, four of which have been recorded, as well as a number of concert pieces for various instruments. The two works on this disc are among his most recent. If they are representative of his oeuvre, this reviewer is certainly interested in hearing more.

The opening Concerto for Two Flutes was written for and dedicated to one of the flautists for this release, Patrick Gallois, who has recorded various discs for Naxos recently, both as flautist and as conductor. The piece begins very quietly, with the flutes coming in a minute into the piece in a call-and-response intonation of the thematic material. The piece as a whole seems to emerge from a dense fog, rather in the same way various pieces by Valentin Silvestrov do, with their sustained quiet notes in brass and strings. Shostakovich is also here, certainly, as is Rodion Shchedrin’s more brooding orchestral music. One gets the sense rather early on that this is not a concerto in the typical sense of the term — the first movement makes few great technical demands on the soloists, and there is no cadenza to speak of. The entire first movement has the feeling of an arduous ascent, and is, in its own right, quite riveting music. The movement has a morendo ending, but this dying away is found throughout the piece as the thematic material gains energy and then flags, builds again, then flags again.

The second movement shows itself to be a far more jittery creature. The thematic material here is again minimal, essentially a descending three note motif. The antsy obsessiveness of this movement is heightened by the use of maracas and various percussion to add to the itch.  Things still are quite tautly restrained until with a resounding blow to a large Bulgarian drum, the whole thing spins off into a true danse macabre which soon shows its teeth, and a quite frightening aspect. All stops dead at about 9:30, whereupon the flutes peep out again from under the wreckage and soon set to quarrelling, which only gets the orchestra started again, with the flutes in an ever-quickening pace. An interesting and impressive work I plan to revisit often.

The Piano Concerto has a few more of the hallmarks of a traditional concerto, with the orchestra coming in with the bravado first movement’s thematic material, which is a tottering monster of a march. The piano staggers in afterwards, with jolting syncopations in the left hand. Here again, as we heard in the last movement of the two-flute concerto, we have a certain obsessiveness in the treatment of the thematic material, always with an edge. The main theme is a depiction of a crushing force, and indeed, it turns out the piece was commissioned to celebrate the anniversary of the Turkish army. The cadenza is a fleet-fingered treatment of the main theme which soon becomes fragmented, then alternated with its quieter version of itself heard earlier.

Quite interesting is the use of timbre in the second movement, which opens with the piccolo and a quietly rolled cymbal, which makes a wonderful imitation of wind, adding greatly to the impression of an almost Maxfield Parrish-like open, peaceful tableau before the concerto moves toward more disquieted areas. The virtuosic third movement has the pianist making an entrance with rapidly-repeated single notes. This section of the movement is certainly a call to arms, with jangling alarms and whoops from the brass. Surrounded by menace, the second theme comes in a rather frightened tender moment exchanged between the violin and the piano, after which things spin back off into the melee of the first theme. Shostakovich’s battle music is certainly an influence here

Having listened to this disc, I certainly am interested in hearing more of Tabakov’s music. Those who enjoy the work of Prokofiev and especially that of Shostakovich and Shchedrin certainly wouldn’t go wrong here. The recording quality is quite good, as is the balance of the orchestra with the soloists in both works presented.

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, February 2007

You'll find this music by contemporary Bulgarian composer Emil Tabakov (b. 1947) somewhat challenging, but with repeated listening, quite rewarding. The concerto for two flutes was written in 2000 at the request of Patrick Gallois, who is its dedicatee as well as one of the soloists. In two movements, it opens quietly with the flutes making themselves known in a mysteriously interrogatory way. The orchestral accompaniment gradually increases in intensity and then suddenly stops leaving the flutes to resume their questioning. It then builds to another shattering climax, but the soloists win the day as the orchestra slowly evaporates leaving them floating in space. The concluding movement is possessed by a demonic, highly rhythmic fifteen-note motif that becomes so totally overpowering that it literally scares the flutes away. It's really quite infectious, because days later you'll suddenly find it running through your head for no apparent reason. This type of motif would seem to be a Tabakov trademark, because the piano concerto starts off with another very similar one that the soloist must do battle with throughout the entire first movement. In fact there's a very militaristic aspect to these proceedings and one can almost picture newsreels of goose-stepping Nazis. Maybe this is explained by the fact that this piece was written in 2003 to celebrate the anniversary of the Turkish Army, which was founded in 209 B.C. The second movement is very restrained with the pianist playing isolated pianissimo notes and runs over a mysterious orchestral background. The total effect is quite hypnotic and a welcome respite from what's come before. The third and final movement is highly energetic and diabolically driven. It's somewhat reminiscent of Dmitri Shostakovich's concerto for piano, trumpet and strings and even has several passages featuring a solo trumpet. Like composer Paolo Pessina (see the preceeding recommendation), Tabakov uses the Dies Irae, which sinisterly lurks in the background throughout the finale. It surfaces with great intensity just before the movement ends as explosively as it began. Pianist Jean-Philippe Collard is magnificent and flutists Patrick Gallois and Philippe Bernold are in top form. The composer conducts the Turkish based Bilkent Symphony Orchestra in what must be definitive performances of these concertos. The recording is quite good except for a couple of low frequency thumps, which sound like Tabakov must have been doing the "Bernstein Bounce" on the podium.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2007

Had Emil Tabakov not devoted so much time to music in Sofia his career would surely have taken him to one of the world's most fashionable orchestras. Certainly the city owes much to him, and now for the first time I find him as a composer of obvious quality. He obviously comes from the modern breed who use atonality as the servant in creating colours and provides a new variant on melodic creativity. The Double Flute Concerto is in two long movements, the first exploring the flute's subtle nuances, while the second builds by adding instruments to create a veritable orchestral orgasm of colour, a duet for two flutes leading us to a hectic chase through the final bars. The Piano Concerto is in the conventional three movements, at times recalling music that has gone before, with a discourteous backward glance at Tchaikovsky. The opening movement is proactive for the soloist who is often pitted against a noisy orchestra, the agility of the pianist being a key component. A quiet and often static central movement leads to a finale that mixes the atmosphere of the previous two movements. All three distinguished soloists are in superb form, though I guess it will be the flute duo that takes most of the plaudits. With the composer in charge we assume the performance as totally idiomatic, though Tabakov would probably have wanted horns that had more spotless intonation. Good high impact sound engineering and after several hearings I am still going back for more. 

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