Review of LNT132: Mihailo Trandafilovski: Chamber Music
David DeBoor Canfield, Fanfare
I dare say that the average Fanfare reader would be unable to name even one Macedonian composer. (Yes, Paul A. Snook probably knows a few, as I would guess does former Fanfare reviewer Stephen W. Ellis.) I used to have a handful in my one-time 60,000-item collection, but none of them were household names, even though there were a few that deserved to be known outside of Macedonia. Probably the best-known (or, more accurately, least unknown) are Toma Prošev and Stojan Stojkov, both of whom had a handful of works recorded on various labels of the former Yugoslavia. Most of the music that I heard by such composers showed influence of Greek harmonies and rhythms, surely not surprising, given Greece’s proximity just to the south of Macedonia.
Well, you’ll not hear much that’s immediately identifiable as Greek in this music, unless you orient your thinking toward the Greek avant-garde school of such composers as Georges Aperghis or Jani Christou. The music of Mihailo Trandafilovski is unquestionably aligned with such an aesthetic. Trandafilovski received his degrees from Michigan State University and the Royal College of Music, being awarded both a master’s and doctorate from the latter institution.
The disc opens with Strike-Flow (in Three Phases), a work for chamber ensemble. The dissonant writing is regularly punctuated with sounds that resemble someone whacking a drum with paper on it (this is only my guess as to how these sounds are produced). The ordering principle of the work is a juxtaposition of the seemingly contradictory ideas of abrupt, instantaneous action and gradual change. The six pieces from Čekori are an exercise in modern counterpoint for two violins, one part played by the composer himself. This recording includes six of the 38 pieces that comprise the work. Moods range from dissonantly rhythmic to dissonantly static, and the level of skill required ranges from a beginner’s level to advanced virtuosity. Many of the pieces have a first part for the student and a second part for the teacher. (Wieniawski used this idea in quite a few of his violin pieces, but I hardly need state that these works inhabit a different universe from the one that Wieniawski resided in). In their construction, the composer has intended them to be didactic, with each piece focusing on a different aspect of violin technique. Unlike some teaching pieces, these place musical value at the forefront, and make effective concert pieces.
Crystal Threads is a work for solo violin, ably executed by Caroline Balding. Its effect is very much similar to the pieces for violin duo, with the exception of some microtonal glides, and the fact that a single violin cannot produce as dense textures as can two.
A-de-scent is for piano trio, a fact not immediately obvious from the tray card. Its disjointed rhythms, punctuated by staccato chords in various instruments (some of which are produced by unconventional means), lend a very exotic sound to the work, which is my favorite on the CD. The rhythmic energy of the opening is dissipated into an arena of isolated static notes that fade away at the conclusion of the movement. The second movement opens with gentle, less-dissonant sonorities, involving much use of perfect fifths played on the open strings of the instruments. The texture gradually becomes more involved and complex in a very interesting manner, with slaps, thuds, and the like permeating the mix.
Trandafilovski’s String Quartet was written for the Kreutzer Quartet, of which the composer is the second violinist. It opens with a flurry of dissonant tremolos in all four instruments, again with punctuations, but this time produced by sul ponticello cello strokes. The top instruments shift to sustained dissonances, but the tremolo continues in the others below them. According to the composer, the three movements of the quartet all “relate, very generally,” to different types of Macedonian folk music. If you are an expert in Macedonian folk music, you might hear how they relate. The rest of us certainly will not. Microtones are also employed in this work.
The Violin Concerto is the culmination of the 38 pieces of Čekori, and is scored for an ensemble of flute (piccolo), clarinet (bass clarinet), horn, trumpet, percussion, piano, viola, and cello. It is cast in two movements, lasting a total of 13 minutes. The composer has used a variety of musical material in this work, such that various aspects balance each other (symmetry vs. asymmetry, chromaticism vs. diatonicism, tranquility vs. violence, and so on). The work was given the Panče Pešev Award for the best new Macedonian piece in the Days of Macedonian Music Festival in 2006.
Whether you will want to own this CD depends on where you head first in your reading of Fanfare. If you make a beeline to the reviews of my esteemed colleague Robert Carl, for instance, this will very likely be a disc that you will cherish. If it is instead to the reviews of the equally redoubtable James A. Altena that you gravitate, you should give this a pass. James would intensely dislike it, and so likely would you. I like it, but then, I like almost every style of music, Minimalism (of course) notably excepted. Performances sound very convincing.