Mihailo Trandafilovski Chamber Music
Release Date 2010
Catalogue No. LNT132
Odaline de la Martínez (conductor)
Peter Sheppard Skærved (violin)
Mihailo Trandafilovski (violin)
Caroline Balding (viola)
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Rob Barnett, MUSICWEB
Trandafilovski was born in Macedonia and that country's traditional music is said to underpin and weave in and out of these pieces. The composer studied at Michigan State and has drawn favourable attention from the SPNM and other luminaries of contemporary music. Recordings of his Quartet and Duet for violin and piano have been issued by SOCOM Macedonian RTV. He has a worthy and influential ally in the violinist Peter Sheppard Skaerved who may be better known for his recordings of Henze, Gloria Coates and Rochberg.
Trandafilovski espouses dissonance and it is within that compass that folk voices are liberated and float free among the shining transparent tangle of shards and tessellae. Strike Flow for a small instrumental ensemble is very much in this vein. Sheppard and the composer play the six pieces from the Cekori cycle. The music is more concerned now with the long line though there are salty Bartókian dissonances both loud and whispered. We change to the solo violin of Caroline Balding for Crystal Threads. The landscape here is in much the same realm as the Cekori pieces - a sort of arcane music of the remote highlands. A-de-scent takes us back to an ensemble drawn from Lontano. Stravinskian assaults and impacts including claps from the players again create both dynamism and clarity. There is considerable silence and only the finest scintillation of sound and note-cells provide coherence and shape. The Quartet is in three movements. It is played by the Kreutzer comprising Sheppard and the composer plus Morgan Goff (viola) and Neil Heyde (cello). The music is spiky, raw, rife with whimpers and whispers, secretive and insect-like. The 13 minute Violin Concerto is the culmination of the Cekori cycle. The music buzzes and hums being irate and even furious. Dissonance is there amid the Stravinskian fusion of sweet emollient and raspy savoury. This is intricate and raucous music.
I found the experience of listening to this disc more fascinating than ingratiating. I am held by the music but do not find it specially likeable. I hope that you might. In any event I sense that the composer will take considerable pride in being represented by such dedicated music-making and informative advocacy.
Maria Nockin, FANFARE
Violinist Mihailo Trandafilovski, who is from Skopje, Macedonia, earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Michigan State University. He received his master’s and doctorate from the Royal College of Music in London, where he has also taught. In 2006, he became a member of the Kreutzer Quartet. Other members of the Kreutzer Quartet are violinist Peter Sheppard Skærved, violist Morgan Goff, and cellist Neil Heyde. Skærved plays the Stradivarius violin once owned by Joseph Joachim on Six Pieces from Čekori, the String Quartet, and the Violin Concerto.
Strike-Flow is a very good description of the music to which the title is applied. It has the type of rhythm that one associates with an Eastern European folk dance. The first movement establishes a rhythmic pattern and the second brings in many interesting, easily flowing harmonics. The third movement then combines the two aspects of the composition.
The word čekori means “steps” in Macedonian. Trandafilovski calls his 38 short compositions in varying degrees of difficulty “steps” because each works on a particular skill a young violinist needs to learn. Most of the Čekori are duets to be played by teacher and student. On this disc Trandafilovski and Skærved play six of these dissonant gems with great skill and present them in an order that makes sense as a concert program.
Crystal Threads is a sparkling piece with unusual intervals and striking harmonies. Caroline Balding of Lontano plays it with emphasis on its ability to sparkle under the musical sun. A-de-scent rises and falls with the beat of Macedonian folk dance. There is an interesting combination here of ancient, traditional dance mixed with the most modern of musical ideas.
The String Quartet is Trandafilovski’s most classically framed offering. The first movement is calm, but the second is a wildly evocative dance that invites more than casual toe-tapping. Combining these different aspects of Macedonian folklore, the third movement gives us a fascinating look at the possibilities of 21st-century harmonies.
Skærved plays the two-movement, 13-minute Violin Concerto with gusto. At first it offers half tones and percussive, sometimes strident material, but it is always propulsive and keeps the listener’s interest. The second movement is a bit of a surprise because it is quite melodic. It’s not a traditional melody, but it is quite singable. A long passage that puts the violin out in front makes the concerto a worthy showpiece for a virtuoso, and Skærved fills the bill admirably. At the end, there is no grand finale, just a memorable shimmer like the sun shining on a long, continuously flowing river.
The CD’s sonics give you the unvarnished sound of these instruments. It’s not designed to beautify tones, but it gives the listener an accurate reproduction of the basic instrumental sounds.
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.