Kalinka Vulcheva,
The Dobroudja Nightingale
(Offspring, 2000)

I received a number of surprises from this recording of a live concert at the Abbaye du Relec in Brittany. The first surprise is that I understood the introduction, which was in French; it has been a long time since I used any of the French I learned in high school and college. In the introduction, the speaker points out that it is very difficult for Kalinka Vulcheva to sing a cappella; in Bulgaria, she usually has musical accompaniment. This turns out to be a significant point.

The second surprise is how very foreign the music sounds. There are sustained notes that rise and fall in a minor mode, glottal tones, plaintive crescendoes. At times, her voice seems to reverberate in the still air of the concert hall.

The liner notes tell the stories in the songs: stories of lovers thwarted, reunited, separated, lost to death or another lover, preparing for marriage with a curious mixture of longing, joy and trepidation. I don't understand Bulgarian, so the actual lyrics are lost on me, but I did notice that the songs didn't seem to fit the lyric/refrain pattern to which I was accustomed. Thus, for me, Vulchenka's voice was more like an instrumental performance, unusual and fascinating.

The third surprise is that this CD really grew on me. After listening to it several times, I began to notice the subtle nuances of Vulchenka's voice, her seemingly effortless control. More and more I appreciated the shadings her performance brought to the songs, and I understand why she is called "The Doubroudja Nightingale" in her native Bulgaria.

That being said, I think this CD is best appreciated by a listener already familiar with this style of music. It probably isn't the best place to start learning about Bulgarian folk music; for one thing, hearing the songs with accompaniment would lend musical context to them. On the other hand, if you're feeling musically adventurous, I'd say go for it. You might be pleasantly surprised.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 29 September 2001