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Bulgarian Sketches. Marta Simidtchieva, cello, with Kris Pineda, piano. Thirteen selections by eight 20th century Bulgarian composers.* ©2018. (48:45) $9.99. GD-403. Available from Naxos and Amazon after September 7, 2018, or order here.
One of the many pleasures of the Eastern Music Festival is encountering talented professional musicians who explore byways of the standard repertoire or, in this case, little known eastern European composers. Cellist Marta Simidtchieva is a native of Bourgas, Bulgaria. She studied at the Bulgarian State Academy of Music before earning her doctorate at Florida State University in 2005. Currently an associate professor of cello at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, she has been a faculty member of the EMF since 2004, where she plays in the Festival Orchestra under music director Gerard Schwarz. This CD is representative of her extensive chamber music activity as well as her musicological explorations.
Pianist Kris Pineda completed his doctor of musical arts (2012) and masters of music (2009) degrees in piano performance at the University of Texas at Austin Butler School of Music. His bachelor of music degree is from SIUE. His collaborative work has focused on the most difficult solo and chamber music.
This review draws heavily on the fine program notes by Ekaterina Dotcheva along with more sporadic coverage of Bulgarian composers in Wikipedia.
This CD opens with "Song," Op. 29, No. 4, by Pancho Vladigerov (1899-1978), perhaps the most famous Bulgarian composer. A longtime collaborator with the theater director Max Reinhardt, Vladigerov composed in many forms: ballet, chamber music, concertos, and opera. "Song" is the fourth of six pieces in his piano cycle of piano miniatures Shumen, Op. 29. This cello version was edited by Kiril Vaordjiev. It is in two parts – one elegiac contrasted with a horo, a popular rural wedding dance richly varied by steps and rhythms. These features alternate between both instruments while the keyboard part features Vladigerov's characteristic rich harmony and fabric.
Krasimir Kyurkchiyski (1936-2011) was a student of Vladigerov and Dmitri Shostakovich. He was active as both an innovative choral composer and as a conductor. He led the Ensemble for Folks Songs choir for the Bulgarian National Radio, more famously known as "The Mystery of Bulgarian Voices" and widely recorded. "Song" is a slow, singing andante with the cello line supported by arpeggiated chords in the piano. In contrast, "Dance" is a fast-paced melody with a distinctive Bulgarian folksong flavor. The cello part has a demanding range of stroke techniques. These pieces were edited by Anatoli Krastev.
Svetoslav Obretenov (1909-55) was founder of one of a famous professional choir in Bulgaria that now bears his name. Beside cantatas and oratorios, his Children's Piano Album (1946) is among the most popular of his instrumental works. Two pieces from this set are performed on the album. "Prispivalka" (Lullaby) is a simple gentle melody while "Theme and Variations," originally for violin and piano, toys with melody and form and bumps up the complexity of each variation.
Lyubomir Pipkov (1904-74) is represented by "Pastorale," a piano piece he arranged for violin and piano. Bulgarian cellist Kiril Vapordjiev prepared the cello version. Based on a haunting, melancholy theme, it consists of three parts in which the composer exploits Bulgarian rhythm and meter. Pipkov composed three operas, four symphonies, choral music, chamber and instrumental music, and most intriguing, a symphony concerto for cello and orchestra dedicated to Mstislav Rostropovich.
Three brief pieces by Iliya Draganov (1913-77) come next: "Humoreska," "Elegia," and "Horo." Draganov was a cellist who composed both instrumental and choral works. These pieces are designed to develop the technique of young players.
"Sevdana" (1944) by Georgi Zlatev-Cherkin (1905-77) is one of the most popular pieces of Bulgarian classical music. The composer's style is heavily influenced by vocal music. Originally composed for violin and piano, Zlatev-Cherkin later arranged this work for both cello and viola.
Marin Goleminov (1908-2000) composed ballets and operas, symphonies, chamber music, and instrumental music. "Song" and "Dance" are drawn from his ballet Nestinarka and are strongly contrasted in character. They display the composer's economy of phrase, energy, and temperament.
This recital ends with Fantasy for Solo Cello by Peter Hristoslov (1917-2006). The composer was a well-known violinist who composed many works for both his instrument as well as the cello. This work is in the capriccio style and fully exploits the wide range of rhythm, color, and tone of the cello.
The sound and balance between the instruments and the sense of presence within an intimate space has been beautifully captured. The recording was made at Shock City Studios in Saint Louis, Missouri. Balance and editing was done by Evan Richey of Ovation Sound, Winston-Salem, North Carolina – the source of many satisfying recordings I have reviewed.
All of these selections are short, ranging from the eight-minute, intricate "Theme and Variations" of Obretenov to the swaggering rhythms of Draganov's "Horo," which comes in at 1:55 minutes. They are all both musically interesting and tonal with plenty of technical challenges.
Simidtchieva plays with superb intonation while spinning seamless melodic lines. Her lower range is rich while her highest notes and tricky harmonics are pure. Multiple stops, strummed strings, and pizzicatos (including the vigorous Bartók) are beautifully executed. The piano parts often match the complexity of the cello's and are played with a fine sense of style marked by clarity by Pineda.
*This is the track list: Pancho Vladigerov (1899-1978): Song 3:21; Krassimir Kyurkchiisky (1936-2011): Song 2:19 & Dance 3:25; Svetoslav Obretenov (1909-55): Prispivalka (Lullaby) 2:38 & Theme and Variations 7:54; Lyubomir Pipkov (1904-74): Pastoral 4:13; Iliya Draganov (1913-77): Humoreska (Humoresque) 1:55, Elegia (Elegy) 2:17, & Horo 1:28' Georgi Zlatev-Cherkin (1905-77): Sevdana 4:56; Marin Goleminov (1908-2000): Song 5:01 & Dance from the ballet Nestinarka 2:18; Peter Hristoskov (1917-2006): Fantasy for solo violoncello 6:54