The Balkan Project: Cavatina Duo: Eugenia Moliner, flute, Denis Azabagic, guitar. Çedille 90000 117, ©2010, 66:30, $16.00. Çedille Records.

The program consists of 16 tracks, each a work based on a folk melody from the Balkans, over half of them commissioned for and dedicated to the performers, a married couple, she Spanish and he a native of Bosnia; 11 of them are recorded here for the first time. Balkan is defined to cover all the countries around the Balkan mountain range which extends eastward into Macedonia, Greece, and Bulgaria from the countries of the former Yugoslavia that we think of today as the Balkan nations that include Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia. It is the area that for centuries divided East and West. The performers are on the faculty of the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University.

Some of the composers are from the Balkan region, but most are not; several are American and one is Latin-American. Most are represented by a single track, one by a pair, and another by three, and one by a single work that has four parts, each a different melody from the same country. The works bear the titles of the melodies they use, some of them going back more than two millennia, but they are not mere transcriptions thereof; rather they incorporate, develop, and vary them, in a few instances not quoting them until the closing bars. The composers use the folk material much as Dvořák and Janácek did; Balkan music has not yet found its Dvořák or Janácek, however, so the Duo is attempting to point the way down the path through its commissions.

The booklet notes are by Vojislav Ivanović, another guitarist (also a composer; the disk includes one of his works) from the area, a graduate of the Athens Conservatory and the Sarajevo Music Academy, who was Azabagic’s teacher, and are hence about as authoritative as could be imagined. He occasionally quotes the composers themselves, since all are living, (b. between 1958 and 1978). They give details about the folk melodies and the way they are treated as well as indicating their often unusual rhythms (5/8, 7/8, 9/8, 11/8, 15/8, 21/8, even 25/8), one of the identifying characteristics of music from this region, which blends numerous influences including Arabic, Gypsy, Sephardic, and Turkish elements as well as some ancient Greek modes. Some of the pieces are slow, occasionally with a haunting aspect, but most are fast. There is an undeniable exotic feel to many, although, curiously, one of them: “Ajde slusaj kalesh bre Andjo” ( “Listen to me, Andjo”) sounds a lot like “Amazing Grace.”

The repertoire of music for flute and guitar is not extensive. Many works commonly performed are transcriptions and arrangements of works of the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic periods originally composed for other instruments, or works composed for one of them with the arrangement adding the second. Only one of these pieces appears to fall into that category: Four Macedonian Pieces by Miroslav Tadic, unless the term “arrangement” is intended here to mean that the composer has stayed closer to the original folk piece, since there is no indication of the instrument(s) for which they were written. This disk offers, therefore, a very worthy addition to the material available for such duos. I found that the works grew on me with repeated listening, which allowed me to more fully appreciate not only the folk material on which they are based but also the skill with which it is used. Some of them extend and push the limits of the techniques of playing the instruments, although none in any unpleasant way. I recommend that you try it and let it grow on you, too.

Marvin J. Ward