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-- Lee Ballinger

Ivan Spassov
Aishinka
(Concord Concerto)

Gheorghi Arnaoudov
Empire of Light
(Concord Concerto)

So what's going on in musical Bulgaria and why should you care? National Public Radio named Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares (Nonesuch) the best CD of the Eighties, and once you've heard it you'll know exactly why: The pungent, nasal tones of the women's chorus cut deep and permanent scrapes into your mind's ear, and the singers' fearless and dead-accurate negotiation of impossible, non-traditional harmonies are enough to leave even classical choirs scratching their heads in wonder.

Aishinka is cut from the same rough cloth, but if anything it makes an even deeper impression. Not strictly authentic, these songs were composed by Spassov in a variety of Bulgarian folk music styles. (Director/composer/arranger Philip Koutev did the same on the Nonesuch disc.) Two women's choirs from the Plovdiv Academy are featured: the Women's Folk Choir and the smoother-toned, more classical Female Chamber Choir. Spassov asks them to do things that most Western composers would never dream of, from note clusters to canine yips, and they comply with home-style strictness. At once prehistoric and daringly modern, this CD is the musical equivalent of bondage and discipline.

Gheorghi Arnaoudov has a different Bulgarian voice; he speaks through the piano. Ringing chords, banging, twittering, and rapturous or threatening silences are his trademarks. The stillness of Morton Feldman, the ritualistic fervor of John Cage, and the nature-painting of Olivier Messiaen are three of Arnaoudov's apparent antecedents. Nevertheless, his voice is not derivative, and his music is of more than passing interest to listeners holding stock in contemporary classical music (mystical subdivision).

Pianist Angela Tosheva negotiates her way through thickets of notes with a brain-surgeon's delicacy. This empire gives off heat as well as light.

-- Raymond Tuttle

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