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Music Review

For Bulgarian Women's Choir, Virtuosity Serves the Collective

October 09, 2000|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Over the past decade, the incomparable sound of the various women's choirs from Bulgaria has become a familiar element in the world music arena. A curious mixture of both ancient and strikingly contemporary elements, their recordings and performances are compelling examples of the fact that entertaining music does not always have to be the result of intentionally commercial efforts.

On Saturday night, in Marsee Auditorium at El Camino College, the Bulgarian Women's Choir, Angelite, performed many selections from its new album, "Voices of Life." The presentation was uncomplicated--a 20-voice choir with conductor Georgy Petkov standing in front of a plain white acoustic shell. The material ranged from traditional women's songs and choral passages reminiscent of Gesualdo and Palestrina, to utterly contemporary works employing freely delivered aleatoric vocal segments.

From a technical point of view, the performance was remarkable. Much of the music involved dense harmonic clusters that demanded impeccable pitch from every singer for the chords to ring true. And they were on target, almost without exception. Other passages, often for a pair of singers, called for one to sing repeated drone notes while the other arched through the complex melismas and glottal accents typical of Eastern European traditional music.

But technique was never at the service of personal virtuosity, despite the remarkable skills of many individual soloists. What made the Women's Choir performance so entrancing, in fact, was its collectivity--the hand-holding of the singers, the familiar manner in which they interacted with each other, and the gorgeous quality of their full ensemble sound. Add to that the program's visual appeal, with the first half of the evening's traditional costumes contrasting with the elegant gowns of the second half, and the performance--for all its elegant but deceptive simplicity--was an evening to remember.

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