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Jeremy Marchant
Fanfare, September 2010

This album contains 16 traditional folk songs and dances from a small area of Europe, arranged for flute and guitar. If that appears to be the basis of a rather unpromising recital, in fact this CD offers exceptional interest and diversity. The Balkans is an area substantially smaller than Texas, yet it houses 55 million people in some 10 countries (Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, and so on) with a multitude of cultures, languages, religions, civilizations, and centuries of conflict. I have no idea whether the selection here is representative of the peoples of the Balkans, but it ranges impressively in style, mood, and color.

Diversity is also achieved through the differing styles of the many arrangers. Nine of the pieces are commissions by the players on this disc, the Cavatina Duo, who are clearly committed to working this rich seam. Miroslav Tadic supplies Four Macedonian Pieces, Clarice Assad contributes three works, Alan Thomas two, and seven further composers one each. The interchange between the words “composer” and “arranger” is deliberate. These pieces are very much “art music,” as divorced in their own way from the original folk music as much as those of Canteloube are. To a greater or lesser extent, they leave the song or dance behind in favor of constructing “impressions,” “fantasias” that use the originals as jumping-off points for more sophisticated treatments demanding a virtuosity simply not found in the local village.

The first track, Raven Dance (Carlos Rafael Rivera), would appear to be at the fairly straight end of the arrangement continuum, while Helen, My Daughter (Matthew Dunne) gives the melody of the song only right at the end, after some quasi-improvisatory work on the flute; the composer otherwise “plays with the melody and harmony of the song, avoiding direct quotation,” according to the useful booklet notes by Vojislav Ivanovič. The Shepherd’s Dream (Alan Thomas) takes just an eight-bar tune and builds quite an elaborate construction on it. Thomas, born in the U.S. and now living in England, creates to my ears a very non-Balkan interpretation; all to the good, if diversity is a goal of any recital.

Little of the music on this disc is in conventional major minor keys. Instead there is a kaleidoscopic mixture of modes and scales. Some originate from ancient Greece (part, of course, of the Balkans), directly or modified, such as the “Balkan minor”: Dorian with the fourth augmented; others are Slavic or Gypsy in origin. Part of the fascination of this disc, as one listens from piece to piece, is in all the melodic twists and turns. What makes the disc exciting, though, is the rhythmic complexity—odd meters played fast. The Bulgarian dance arranged by Boris Gaquere is casually in 11/8, while other pieces are in 5/8, 7/8, or 9/8, and some pieces reach meters up to 25/8.

Tadic’s Four Macedonian Pieces comes toward the end of the disc and uses an alto flute. (My only criticism of the CD is that a high-pitched flute, at length, can be somewhat wearing in the domestic hi-fi context.) This well-put-together set of four pieces—two songs followed by two dances—makes a microcosm of the whole disc. Every positive characteristic mentioned so far is present. The first song starts with a guitar solo, making one wish that a few of the numbers had been allocated to the guitar alone, which almost always takes an accompanying role—not that that implies a lack of interest or virtuosity in the guitar writing. The second song, Zajdi, Zajdi, is a remarkable solo recitative for flute, the guitar only modestly appearing halfway through.

The recording sets a good balance between the players and sounds natural. The performances of Eugenia Moliner, flute, and Denis Azabagic (a Balkan himself), guitar, are entirely on top of the music, dispatching it with passion, grace, and élan.

Michael Cameron
Fanfare, September 2010

There is an important trend in music that doesn’t yet seem to have a name. As interest in indigenous non-classical music from various cultures gathers steam, hybrids between these and classical music continue to draw scrutiny from audiences and performers, most famously Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Ensemble. These influences can be traced back centuries, of course (i.e., Mozart’s interest in Turkish music is but one example), but the influence has gone far beyond the colorful additions of particular instruments or a specific regional tang added to an otherwise Western piece. Many of these styles are entering the very DNA of our music as a natural extension of globalization. The name Third Stream was coined a half century ago by Gunther Schuller to describe “a new genre of music located about halfway between jazz and classical music.” Any votes for Fourth Stream?

This terrific new disc of flute/guitar duos occupies one of the many possible points on the classical/folk continuum. Since it consists entirely of music of the Balkans, it also occupies a critical space on the East/West divide. In a nutshell, the music consists of arrangements of songs and dances from the region, commissioned by the Cavatina Duo, one of whom hails from the region (Bosnian guitarist Denis Azabagic) and one of whom doesn’t (Spanish flutist Eugenia Moliner). The notes don’t refer to the use of improvisation in any of the works, but there is a sense of spontaneity to many of the pieces that suggests that the original sources may have employed extemporaneous methods in part.

There is probably still a pervasive belief among many music lovers that “folk” denotes unwavering simplicity, a stereotype that should long ago have been dashed among those with even a cursory knowledge of this region. Some of these works exhibit a dizzying complexity of meter that would confound many a trained classical performer. Even traditional love songs can be found in odd meters, such as the endearing Macedonian song Eleno, Kerko Eleno, in 7/8 throughout. The signature augmented fourth interval so common in the Middle East can be heard in this disc as being a part of this region as well, the apt label for the scale being the “Balkan Minor.” The closest the collection comes to the inclusion of a suite is the Four Macedonian Pieces by Miroslav Tadic. The opening “Jovna Kumanovka” has beguiling melody in a lightly syncopated lilt, and the tune is tossed between the flute and different registers of the piano. The guitar line of “Padushko” sizzles, and the dance pushes ahead in an almost dizzying 5/8 meter.

The duo is unerringly captivating in this literature. Moliner has a rich, soulful tone that suits the music perfectly, and Azabagic has plenty of chops to negotiate the demands of this frequently virtuosic work. The natural audience for this disc would be flutists, guitarists, and students of the region, but it’s hard to imagine anyone not finding lots of pleasure here.

Steven Ritter
Audiophile Audition, September 2010

This album is mainly of commissioned works (by the Cavatina Duo—Eugenia Moliner, flute, and Denis Azabagic, guitar) by non-Balkan composers of music which nevertheless is modeled for the most part on Baltic forms from a variety of different countries in the region. Macedonia, Bulgarian, Croatian, Bosnian, you name it, are all found here in relatively short pieces that are able to convey the essence of the rhythmic and melodic foundations of this particular ethnic music.

Especially rhythmic are these pieces, to a complexity that seems bewildering, though that same complexity can also “feel” relatively simply in a broader context. And if you like modal music then this is the place to be, for this region’s native music is loaded with it, the ancient Greek modes, Byzantine music and gypsies all contributed to the uniqueness of this art.

The Cavatina Duo obviously loves this music, playing it with passion and appropriate subtlety when needed, never once letting down their guard when those devilish rhythms come their way, and giving the whole a fine sense of style and sophistication...the unquestioned musicianship and fine glimpse into an area probably unknown to most earn a definite recommendation.

Todd Gorman
American Record Guide, September 2010

The Balkan Project consists of the commissioning, arrangement, and often reinterpretation of numerous Serbian, Bosnian, Croatian, Macedonian, and Bulgarian songs and dances for flutist Eugenia Moliner and guitarist Denis Azabagic. The project was undertaken at the recommendation of Brazilian-American guitarist Sergio Assad. We meet a very ethnic-sounding flute and an energetic, often percussive guitar on this release. Prepare to be alternately haunted and energized; the switch to alto flute on some tracks is especially evocative.

The performing versions of Balkan musical material heard here were in fact produced by a number of composers born between 1958 and 1978 (and not necessarily in the Balkans). But it is the unity of style that one notices here, not a variety of individual personalities and treatments. As a flutist, I will credit these assorted contributors with the paucity of trills; they’re almost non-existent—something I never expected to encounter in a flute recording! Although a genuine ethnicity is intended, the composers’ approach was also meant to be creative; there are gratuitous glissandos and touches of flamenco and jazz that add to the music rather than intrude.

Moliner and Azabagic are faculty at the Chicago College of Performing Arts and have performed extensively as soloists and together. Their chemistry as duo partners is conspicuous. Moliner exhibits exquisite control and plays with a wide range of dynamics and colors. Given all this, her excellent intonation should be noted as well. Azabagic’s adept playing ranges from tender touches to steely strums to vigorous slaps and even the occasional harmonic. Very informative notes in English are supplied by Azabagic’s former teacher, guitarist-composer Vojislav Ivanovic.

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