Ruse Kose, the first CD for Anja and Zlatna, draws on the same repertoire that is the basis for the ensemble’s popular concerts. One of these was a Sunday afternoon concert, The Beautiful Balkans, at the Iwaki Auditorium as part of ABC Classic FM’s Sunday Live series. The ensemble Anja & Zlatna comprises vocalists Anja (Aleksandra) Acker & Kirsty Morphett, (whose “golden” hair provided the inspiration for the “zlatna” in the groups’s name), percussion Dan Richardson, double bass Andrew Tanner, flute Michael O’Connor and harpsichord Donald Nicolson.
This unusual combination works to produce a vivid and melodic CD with music from the Balkans, Serbia, Macedonia and Russia (with an unexpected brief stop-off in Mexico!). Gypsy music is drawn from several countries: Aki-Paki from Hungary and Chaje Shukarye from Serbia, Anja’s homeland. The choice of music, its ordering, performance and recording is of the highest quality. A future CD would benefit from more information about the performers, and translations of the songs.
Ruse Kose, the first track continues the fascination with “fair hair” and, although a traditional song from Serbia, has elements of a slow dance, a mix of folk and modern elements in its rhythm and languorous melody. With harmony intrinsic to these songs, the match of voices is a delight. Whether a plaintive lament or a folk dance-inspired celebration, the singers – both mezzos, with well-matched voices – bring depth and warmth to the mostly Slavic sound, often heard to advantage when sung a capella.
The versatility of the four instrumentalists is matched only by the charm of the unexpectedness of their combination . O’Connor’s lively flute is an ideal partner in “dialogue”, and has its own lovely solo piece in the Serbian Oro Gaide.
The other instruments are notable for an exciting percussive sound. Nicolson is better known for his performances with the baroque ensemble Latitude 37, but makes a convincing case for the harpsichord as a vibrant accompaniment to the songs. For example, in the Mexican Malagenia Salerosa the keyboard is intrinsic to the “flourish” of that dance form, matching well with the sound of castanets. The up-tempo Aki-Paki seems to have various influences, not least of them a kitten, and a change of rhythm mid-song.
By way of contrast, the Macedonian Uchy me Majko, Karay me (apparently asking for a mother’s help in securing a bride!) has a steady, gentle rhythm. A mellow flute complements the voices on the next track, Izvoru (from Serbia) and has a quite different, plaintive sound accompanying the Bulgarian lament, Prituri se Planinta.
Nicolson’s solo (exploring much of the harpsichord’s range) is a vibrant and stylish bridge to the gypsy piece from Serbia which rounds off the CD. Chaje Shukarye has repetitive elements that are quite hypnotic, a stirring rhythm and a harmony to show off the blending of the two voices. In other words, the perfect finish to a journey instead music that makes the listener want to dance, sing or simply hear more.
About the reviewer: Suzanne Yanko is the founding editor of www.classicmelbourne.com.au. She has worked as a reviewer, writer, broadcaster and editor for Fairfax Digital, the Herald-Sun, the South China Morning Post, Radio 4 Hong Kong, HMV VOICE, CitySearch and ArtsHub, with several hundred reviews to her credit.
Anja & Zlatna are performing in the round at the Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre, on Monday March 30, at 3pm & 6pm. The CD is available at Readings stores or by contacting Anja at email@example.com