First let’s clear up the misnomer: only one of these works
relates to Africa, and that one was not written by an African. This is more
like a quick world tour with guitar as guide, stopping over everywhere.
Things get off to an appealing start with the Folk Song
by Atanas Ourkouzounov, based on a Bulgarian tune. The melody
doesn’t sound particularly Bulgarian; especially when I hear the first
variation, I think of the gentle, welcoming sounds of the American midwest.
Other variations add a number of moods and evocations to the mix.
, composed just one country over in Greece by
Vojislav Ivanovic, is a suite that moves far beyond Athens for inspiration.
There’s a tribute to Piazzolla, a “Funny Valse” that does
indeed have some exaggerated dynamics and even a sliding
Carlos Rafael Rivera’s Canción
expression into ninety seconds, like Granados’ Dedicatoria
Dusan Bogdanovic, the third Balkan composer, turns to blues for his
inspiration here. One variation has the rhythm of Beethoven’s
syncopated “boogie variation” in the final piano sonata, but
with the harmonies of the modern day; it just reminded me how far ahead of
his time Beethoven was. Bogdanovic’s work gets increasingly exuberant
as it goes; all to the good.
Alan Thomas’ Out of Africa
is inspired by African and
Arabic ideas, but it does not attempt to depict actual scenes, or to imitate
folk music directly. That’s probably for the best. It allows Thomas to
be more sincere in his voice, whether he’s evoking the stomp of folk
dancing, painting a portrait of sunrise or writing microtonal music that
deliberately - and I feel qualified to say, very skillfully - imitates the
sound of the Arabic oud.
Guitarist Denis Azabagic is superb all the way through, and I
can’t imagine the five composers being happier with performances of
their works. It’s as if technical difficulties do not even exist, and
his slow build-up from one near-silent thread of notes to a glorious full
sunrise in Out of Africa
bespeaks an equally impressive mastery of
expression. The sound quality is pretty great, too. I wish the title and
cover had been different-out of the Balkans?-but that’s my only