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Category: balkan music

A Triumphant Return For Gorgeous Accordion and Accordion-Adjacent Sounds at Bryant Park

Last night at Bryant Park marked the very welcome return of the annual accordion festival there. At its pre-2020 peak, the festival ran weekly over a month or more beginning in late summer. This year’s installment mirrored the wild eclecticism and thrills that organizer Ariana Hellerman programmed there until the fateful events of 2020.

“Ultimately this is about love,” she told the crowd before the show, acknowledging New York’s debt to the immigrant communities who share her appreciation for portable keyed reed instruments. She’d begun programming the festival ten years ago after returning from Colombia, where she’d fallen in love with vallenato. “I’d never seen the accordion as revered as it was in Colombia. People would play air accordion in the streets.”

Heart of Afghanistan opened this year’s mainstage concert with a brooding anthem, frontman/harmonium player Ahmad Fanoos singing with a simmering intensity over his pianist son Elham Fanoos’ glittering, neoromantic cascades. It came across as part Bollywood, part Egyptian classical, mirroring the ensemble’s home country’s role as a focal point over centuries of cultural cross-pollination.

They followed with an elegantly syncopated, crescendoing take of a traditional Afghani New Years theme, Mehran Fanoos’ violin soaring distantly over Hamid Habibzada’s tablā. A dramatic, heroic minor-key theme fueled by lickety-split, meticulously ornamented piano and plaintively interwoven violin was next, the bandleader finally rising to an impassioned, melismatic peak.

The central Asian passion continued with an insistently syncopated, chromatically charged number, then the group resurrected the pre-Taliban Afghani national anthem as quasi art-rock with a shivery violin solo: it sure blows away the old drinking song that Francis Scott Key appropriated.

They took a detour into a jaunty ghazal, bouncing along with call-and-response and microtonal violin cadenzas, then a return to pouncing Middle Eastern-inflected modal fire, peaking out with an angst-fueled anthem. Music this gorgeous deserves to be vastly better known.

The Ukrainian Village Voices were next on the bill with an abbreviated set. From their home in the East Village, the rotating cast of this accordion-driven chorale have been New York’s nexus for traditional sounds from that imperiled part of the world.

The multi-generational, dual-gendered ensemble opened with a goofy, rousing, simple tune about harvesting buckwheat and making pancakes which the babushkas they’d met on their 2018 Ukrainian tour had asked them to sing over and over, as one of the group explained to the crowd.

A drinking song with the somber theme of “drink up because we may be gone tomorrow” was next – it came across as more of a work song. Make of that what you will.

They picked up the pace with a bristling, chromatic traditional warrior’s circle dance with violin from one of the chorus and closed with a pulsing party anthem sung from the point of view of a girl who doesn’t want to go home.

Balaklava Blues – a spinoff of fiery Canadian Balkan band the Lemon Bucket Orkestra – were up next. One of the trio’s two violinists – each of whom doubled on drums – built a long, suspenseful, shivery solo over an ominous low drone before accordionist Marichka Marczyk took to the mic with a plaintive, increasingly vocal, in Ukrainian. Her violinist husband Mark’s mask – mouth and nose open, most of the rest of his face obscured – spoke as much truth to power as any of the music on the bill.

Finally, at the end, Marichka switched to English: “Don’t tell me what to do” was the mantra. They followed by making glitchy trip-hop out of a rousing, defiantly stomping, whooping folk tune, like a slightly less thunderous Dakhabrakha. Marichka switched to piano and sang “Give me money or something” in a venomous turbo-folk-trip-hop anthem, with a searing violin solo from her husband.

As she told the crowd, the band’s raison d’etre is “To fight for freedom not only in Ukraine but for democracy all around the world.” Meanwhile, her brother is somewhere on the Ukrainian frontline, fighting off Russian retaliation to the NATO-provoked conflict. No wonder the piercing, angst-fueled art-rock lament that followed was about going home – and the prospect of never being able to. Remaining at the piano, Marichka continued with a slowly crescendoing, eerily chromatic tableau. They built a singalong with the crowd on a similarly macabre-tinged coda, the band’s second violinist echoing Marichka’s shivery, harrowing, imploring voice.

Since this happened to be Mexican independence day, a Selena cover band headlined. This pickup group of A-list New York musicians hail from the worlds of cumbia, Turkish music, klezmer and Americana, among other styles. Sure, it was a tr ip to see Michael Winograd – one of this era’s great klezmer clarinetists – step outside the box and take a turn on go-go sax. Unlike Selena, frontwoman Jenny Luna is a native Spanish speaker, and quickly revealed herself as an infinitely better and more seductive singer. The group were tighter than their debut before the lockdown at a crowded Brooklyn bar, but ultimately, the material wasn’t up to the level of the cast onstage. And that’s when it was time to call it a night.

The next concert at Bryant Park is tonight, Sept 17 at 7 PM with the the American Symphony Orchestra playing music by William Grant Still, Louise Talma and Mahler.

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Wild Balkan Brass Icons Slavic Soul Party Stage a Queens Blowout

How cool is it when you find out you were in the crowd when one of your favorite bands was making a a live album? This blog was in the house on August 20, 2019 when Brooklyn’s best-loved Balkan brass band, Slavic Soul Party recorded a handful of tunes which appear on their latest concert record, streaming at Bandcamp.

What was the show like? Blurry. That was one wild night. If you missed it – or the mostly-weekly Tuesday night series in Park Slope that they played for the better part of sixteen years before the 2020 lockdown – you can hear them outdoors on August 2 at 7 PM at Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City. You can take the 7 to Vernon-Jackson, walk to 48th Ave. and take it straight to the river, or take the G to 21st/Van Alst, take 45th Ave. as far toward the water as you can and then make a left.

Back in 2016, Slavic Soul Party put out a deviously erudite Balkan brass remake of Duke Ellington’s Far East Suite, and the opening number, Amad opens this record. Accordionist Peter Stan provides an intro to this version, from March of the following year, launching a suspenseful river of sound, then torrents of chromatics, then the brass kick in over the clip-clip beat of Matt Moran’s bubanj. Tapan drummer Chris Stromquist keeps a slinky groove going on as the horns pulse closer and closer to New Orleans.

Nizo’s Merak, from one of the band’s last pre-lockdown shows there in November, 2019, begins as one of the Balkan/hip-hop mashups they made a name for themselves with and shifts into bracing, chromatic Serbian territory on the wings of a trumpet solo. For a band who had so many members who play in other projects, it’s remarkable how little the lineup has changed over the years. That’s John Carlson and Kenny Warren on trumpets, Peter Hess on sax, Tim Vaughn and Adam Dotson on trombones and Kenny Bentley on tuba.

Considering how much of a party the Tuesday night residency was, the split-second precision of the horns on this July, 2018 version of Balada is pretty amazing, Stan’s liquid accordion lines holding it together. Same with the rapidfire minor-key brass flurries over the subtle side-step rhythm in Romano Pravo, from the March 2017 gig. The tantalizingly brief accordion-and-drums breakdown was always a big audience hit, and this is a prime example.

Truth is one of their rarer, slower, more balmy numbers, Stan methodically working his way from choosing his spots to his usual supersonic pirouettes. The next number, 323 is a showcase for the band’s funkier side. The three tunes from the August 20, 2019 show – Romski Merak, Sing Sing Čoček, and Missy Sa-sa – appear here as an increasingly delirious, roughly seventeen-minute suite that covers pretty much all the bases. Steve Duffy plays tuba here as the band fire off biting doublestops, enigmatic whole-note solos, and a couple of hailstorm drum breaks.

After a brief rat-a-tat “Latino Band Medley,” the band close with FYC, a feast of disquieting Eastern European tonalities with a couple of careening trumpet and trombone solos recorded in July of 2018.

Since these are field recordings that the band released as merch during the time that disgraced ex-Governor Andrew Cuomo had criminalized live music in New York, the sound is on the trebly side, although there surprisingly isn’t a lot of audience noise. At the Queens show, you won’t be able to hear any of the “amazing music that Quince puts on at the end of the night” at the Park Slope gigs, as the group mention on the Bandcamp page. But all New Yorkers will be able to see the show since the bar was weaponized to discriminate against patrons who didn’t take the lethal Covid injection.

Elegantly Exhilarating Klezmer Band Mames Babegenush Make a Welcome Return to Manhattan

Danish klezmer band Mames Babegenush made New York music history a couple of years ago for being part of what appears to have been the final installment of Golden Fest, the annual mega-concert of Balkan and Balkan-adjacent music that ran uninterrupted for more than three decades and was arguably the most exhilarating annual New York music event. The previous weekend, the band had played a marathon series of shows, from the Lower East Side to Curry Hill, chronicled in part here after a wild night at the Carlton Arms Hotel.

For those who can’t get enough of bracing minor keys and sizzling solos, Mames Babegenush are on the road for their “COVID Can’t Keep Klezmer Down” tour, with a gig at Drom on July 20 at 8 PM; you can get in for $20 in advance. And an advance listen to two new tunes the band have recently recorded proves this irrepressible bunch of party animal virtuosos are no worse for the layoff during the global totalitarian takeover. The first song, Elvermose Cocek reminds how much fun they can have with tunes from outside the klezmer demimonce, in this case a pouncing Balkan dance with a gorgeous, soaring solo from clarinetist Emil Goldschmidt.

The second is Night Flight, a gorgeous nocturne which their drummer Morten Aero opens with a mysterious cimbalom solo before bassist Andreas Mollerhoj introduces a tiptoeing pulse, setting the stage for a deep-sky solo from flugelhorn player Bo Rande. That’s the loud and soft of what you can expect from a band whose nine-album output of originals and imaginative takes on klezmer classics includes one titled Klezmer Killed the Radio Star.

The Knights Make History With Beethoven and Janacek at the Naumburg Bandshell

Last night at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park was a welcome return for one of New York’s most enduring cosmopolitan traditions. This was a particularly clever installment. It’s been done before: pairing Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata with Janacek’s String Quartet No. 1, “Kreutzer Sonata.” A Naumburg Concert favorite, chamber orchestra the Knights worked several levels of meta with new symphonic arrangements of both: the former a chart by violinist Colin Jacobsen, the latter a collaboration between his brother Eric and Knights horn player Mike Atkinson.

Orchestral scores for both works go back as far as Tschaikovsky, who did it with Beethoven. Likewise, there have been plenty of programs pairing both of the original pieces. But yesterday evening’s concert might have been the first time two orchestral versions of both have been played on the same bill. It turned out to be as colorful as expected, considering the ensemble’s penchant for surprise.

They opened with a Colin Jacobsen piece, playfully titled Kreutzings, rising from dizzyingly dissociative layers through jaunty microtonal glissandos from around the ensemble, to a coyly contrapuntal waltz. Flickers of each of the night’s main composers bubbled to the surface occasionally as the strings joined in precise, steady eighth notes while winding their way out.

Jacobsen, celebrating his birthday, served as soloist in the Beethoven. Crisp, elegant cheer interchanged with a little suspense and a bustling freshness that veered toward the raw side in the opening movement, confirming how well this material lends itself to orchestral sweep and majesty. Jacobsen quickly went for silkiness and ran with it amid anxious Vivaldiesque counterpoint. The restless thicket of low strings toward the end was a particularly juicy moment for the orchestra to sink their teeth into.

As if by design, a passing airplane introduced the andante second movement, bubbly woodwinds picking up the pace considerably before Jacobsen took over with a fine-toothed staccato. The bristling energy never dissipated, through lushness and a coyly pulsing bounce beneath the violinist’s spirals, flurries and animated pizzicato. Interestingly, the finale was on the spare and restrained side, despite the velocity: an urbane party that earned a contrastingly raucous standing ovation.

After the intermission, the ensemble tackled Anna Clyne’s Stride. Echoing the concert’s opening number, fleeting hints of Beethoven percolated amid tense close harmonies and microtones over a striding tempo flecked with rather suspenseful lulls and a long trajectory up to an anthemic, Dvorakian coda. Clyne doesn’t usually go for fullscale High Romantic: turns out she excels at it. This was a revelation.

Janacek’s first quartet follows the drama and familial mischegas of the Tolstoy tale, giving us an extra level of meta. Furtive Balkan chromatics quickly receded for an aching lushness and unexpected pageantry in the opening movement, only to reappear in a tensely gripping, Bernard Herrmann vein. Giving the anxious conversation in the third movement to the woodwinds paid magnificently poignant dividends on the way to an equally memorable stampede out. The ensemble encored with flutist Alex Sopp leading the group through a lickety-split, buoyant arrangement of a Taraf de Haidoucks Romany dance tune.

For those who missed the concert, the Knights managed to record the Beethoven and Janacek in February 2020, just under the wire before the fateful events that would crush the world a few weeks later. The next Naumburg Bandshell concert is on June 28 at 7:30 PM with the Handel and Haydn Society, led by violinist Aisslinn Nosky, playing works by Corelli, Vivaldi, Geminiani, Handel and Charles Avison.

A Hotrod of a Band Headlines This Year’s Greek Jewish Festival

More about today’s annual Greek Jewish Festival at the Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue and Museum at 280 Broome St. in Chinatown: the headliners, Pontic Firebird, hit the stage at 5 PM. Not only do they have one of the coolest bandnames ever, they’re also a party in a box. They play a wildly adrenalizing mix of traditional Greek Mediterranean dance tunes that sometimes echo the eerie chromatics of rembetiko gangster music, and the Smyrnika sounds that permeated the underworld in that part of the globe in the decades after World War I.

This blog most recently caught Pontic Firebird in action at the 2018 edition of Golden Fest, which for years has been arguably the most exciting annual concert in New York (the 2020 edition took place as usual. that January; there was also an abbreviated, outdoor 2021 edition, but none so far this year). You can download the band’s 2018 set there at the recently and unexpectedly restored Free Music Archive, as well as a longer show from four years earlier. Let’s give that one a spin, shall we?

Frontwoman/violinist Beth Bahia Cohen first leads the group through a raw, rustic, trickily rhythmic dance that veers from minor to major and back and sounds more like Greek hill country music than it does Mediterranean. The group members aren’t listed, but there’s also oud, boomy standup drums and bass in the mix.

Oud and violin double the melody line over pouncing syncopation in the next number, followed by a hypnotically loopy one where Cohen goes flying into some spine-tingling spirals when least expected. The fourth track starts starkly and auspiciously and suddenly cuts off – hey, it’s a field recording, that happens sometimes. The group wind up the set – or at least what’s here – with their edgiest, most chromatically bristling number.

The rest of the bands on today’s bill are also excellent. If you can get out of the house early enough, you can catch the whole lineup, which starts at noon with the bouncy Elias Ladino Ensemble, followed by the Greek American Folklore Society band, the Noga Group featuring brilliant oudist Avram Pengas, bellydancer Layla Isis and then psychedelic Middle Eastern oud player and bandleader Scott Wilson & Efendi at 4. Take the B or D to Grand St.

Anouar Kaddour Cherif Releases an Inimitably Gorgeous North African Album

Anouar Kaddour Cherif’s axe is the mandola, the gorgeous, woody-toned North African lute, akin to an oud with a larger body and expanded upper register. The Algerian expat’s latest album Djawla – streaming at Bandcamp – is a deliciously edgy mashup of North African Arabic music and Balkan jazz. Cherif’s songs are unpredictable: dirges burst out into scampering, deftly syncopated dances and vice versa when least expected. It’s closer to chaabi or Turkish diasporic styles than it is jazz, and his quartet play briskly but with a striking economy of notes: noodling not allowed here. There’s really nothing quite like this out there.

In the opening track, Sans Pap the group take a slinky chromatic riff, go scampering, then slow it down, the mandola and Clément Meunier’s tersely looming bass clarinet over the lithe, understated pulse of Antoine Brochot’s bass and Hannes Junker’s drums.

Meunier’s aching, desolate, duduk-like upper register flutters over Cherif’s spare riffage as the group slowly make their way into Albatross over an ominous bass drone. Eventually they pick it up – and suddenly the bird breaks free of its shackles! Was this inspired by the Baudelaire poem maybe?

Likewise, Cherif backs away from his scrambling opening taqsim for more plaintive bass clarinet to introduce Savage Butterfly, then the band scramble and team up for bristling chromatic harmonies over a tricky dance beat. Brochot opens Call of the Night with a mysterious, skeletal solo before Cherif’s Lynchian chords enter from the shadows, only to back away, leaving just the rhythm section and low-key vocals.

Neatly orchestrated echo effects shift between instruments in Sirocco, a return to tight, rapidfire syncopation, with a break for spare, misterioso solo mandola. The band hint at the Pink Panther theme, slowly building Automne Occidental into a slow North African noir blues and then a briskly circling, vampy theme.

A True Lie is an ingenious, seemingly halfspeed take on what would otherwise be a lickety-split dance tune that would be just as much at home in Macedonia or Turkey as Algeria. Virgule – French for “comma” or “decimal point,” depending on context – is the loopiest and most rhythmically straightforward track here, with playful exchanges between the instruments. The group wind up the record with Amiret Erriyam, a loping, stately anthem in the biting Arabic hijaz mode with a tasty microtonal bass solo at the center.

The Spy From Cairo Keeps Making Deliciously Serpentine Middle Eastern Dub Sounds

For more than a decade, one-man band Moreno “Zeb” Visini has been making wildly psychedelic dubwise Middle Eastern dance music under the name The Spy From Cairo. Oud and saz lute are his main axes, but he’s also adept at keyboards, guitar, bass and drums. As usual, he plays everything with expertise and a wry sense of humor on his new vinyl record Animamundi, streaming at Bandcamp.

He was able to record the album in his home country of Italy despite the fascist restrictions which are still in place there, since he does all the music himself with a little transcontinental input from talented vocalists on the web. The central message is freedom. If there are bouncy castles at the rallies in Rome, this is the kind of stuff that freedom fighters (and their kids) could re-energize with. There are a ton of flavors on this record, all held together by lusciously chromatic maqams.

He gets off to a strong start with the title track. a brisk Egyptian reggae tune built around a catchy, scampering, biting oud lead track. Daf frame drum booms in the background, “Information of creation is stored in our DNA,” a rasta explains in the voiceover at the end. No doubt!

Asssembled around a catchy chromatic riff, Beautiful Baraka, featuring Adil Smaali is a chaabi-reggae-rap mashup with a couple of keyboards trading off in a wry call-and-response. Black Sea comes across as a trebly dub plate with wah-wah oud. Visini balances another slithery, catchy oud riff against microtonal roller-rink organ in Cosmic Pasha, then takes a deep plunge into Middle Eastern cumbia in Criminal, with Mambe Rodriguez taking a coy turn on vocals.

Divination has a more enigmatic Balkan-flavored tune, but Visini works anthemic string synth riffs into it. He goes back to a brisk cumbia groove, adding layers of cifteli lute and a scrambling oud solo in Extraterrestre, featuring Andalucian vocalist Carmen Estevez. Hamsa Shuffle has lusciously microtonal violin and a blippy, hypnotic cumbia sway, while Mizmirized has otherworldly zurna oboe and a swaying rai beat.

Visini ripples and pings his way through Qanun in Dub, a reggae tune and one of the most unselfconsciously gorgeous tracks on the record. Seeds of Culture is a loopy Indian-flavored song with snakecharmer ney flute over a rai rhythm and an unexpectedly bristling oud outro (is there such a word as “oudtro?”). The final cut, Ya Wuldani features guests Fatou Gozlan & Duo Darbar and is arguably the most psychedelic, dubwise number. It’s awfully early in the year to be talking about the best albums of 2022, but this is one of them.

High-Voltage Catalan Dances and Party Tunes From Fenya Rai

Fenya Rai play high-voltage Catalan folk and Romany dance tunes with a rock rhythm section. Their sound is more unscripted and less flamenco-oriented than the Gipsy Kings, less self-referential than Gogol Bordello, although in their own irrepressible way they’re every bit as punk. Their latest album Placa Major – meaning “town square” – is streaming at Spotify. It’s a party in a box. Jordi Jubany plays guitar, with Jaume Martínez on accordion, David Tudela on bass and on Roger Montalà on drums

The opening number, Pastor Cabrer is a gruffly bouncy, upbeat tune that could be the Pogues singing in Catalan – or a bluegrass tune, for that matter. Sometimes party music sounds a lot alike no matter where it comes from. Joan Reig is the boisterous guest vocalist.

Jaume Arnella sings the similarly upbeat Les Rondes del Vi with a gruff, wintry delivery, in contrast to the spritely acoustic guitar. Francesc Ribera a.k.a Titot takes over the mic on La Fonda de Cal Xai, a briskly pulsing minor-key Romany tune. He returns a bit later to sing El Rector de Collbató, a klezmer-tinged tune with moody, resonant clarinet from Aura Roca along with stabbing accordion. Playing electric guitar, Albert Ibarra trades off some biting riffage of his own.

Bat de Sol is where the flamenco comes simmering in, with the expressive Arturo Gaya on vocals and Clara Colom on diatonic accordion. Adrià Dilmé joins the vocal harmonies in the cheery, pastoral cumbia El Vi de la Terra. Ibarra’s spiky guitar adds a wild psychedelic tinge to Quin Enrenou, another cumbia bounce.

Baixeu al Carrer, a swaying accordion tune, has sly guy/girl harmonies: it could be the roots of a Venezuelan cumbia hit from the 60s. The band pick up the pace even more with Els Tres Xicots, a big scampering banjo anthem.

There are mariachi horns on El Gall Negre, which could be a Mexican banda hit with a lickety-split sprint out at the end. The band go back to cumbia for album’s final track, El Tiexidor, a singalong drinking song.

Poignant, Gorgeous New Songs For Viola Da Gamba on Almalé’s New Album

Pilar Almalé’s axe is the viola da gamba. It’s an unusual choice for an original songwriter, especially since most of the repertoire for the instrument is from the baroque era and before . Almalé has an expressive voice, uses the gamba for both cello-like sustain and basslines, writes strong melodies and reinvents older material with considerable flair. Her new album, Hixa Mia (My Daughter), released under her last name, is streaming at Spotify. She has a fantastic, similarly adventurous band. Violinist Thomas Kretszchmar and guitarist Alex Comín blend terse, imaginative jazz and Romany influences without cluttering the sound, percussionist Fran Gazol adding flamenco and Middle Eastern grooves.

Almalé opens the album with the title track, a catchy, Andalucian-flavored, poignant minor-key anthem with a swaying, levantine-tinged groove and a stark, jazz-inflected violin solo. You could call this folk-rock, or Romany music, or something fresh and new. The string harmonies on the slow, gently syncopated second track, simply titled Passacalle, are stark, rich and reedlike, a close approximation of an accordion. Comín bobs and weaves and chooses his spots, whether with feathery tremolo-picking, big lush chords or carefree single-note jazz lines.

She opens A la Luna, a gorgeously slinky, trickily rhythmic Turkish-inspired number, with a broodingly bowed solo, bringing a visceral sense of longing to the lyrics. Kretszchmar subtly builds his solo to a searing peak.

Pianist Lucas Delgado plays carefully articulated, somber lines in Flow My Tears, a moody, klezmer-esque ballad which Almalé sings in low-key, cadenced English. The group veer between brisk Romany-flavored jazz, a moody ballad and the baroque in the instrumental Blue Lamento. It makes a good bridge to Folias Gallegas, an upbeat, Celtic-tinged circle dance with an austere, baroque-flavored solo gamba break midway through.

La Patetica, a solo gamba piece, comes across as a stormy mashup of Tschaikovsky and a Bach cello suite. Almalé launches a-cappella into the album’s final cut, Los Guisados, a rousing, rustically waltzing anthem that rises out of an unexpected lull to a tantalizing white-knuckle restraint. It’s unlike anything else released in the last several months. Fans of music from the Straits of Gibraltar to the Black Sea will love this stuff.

Etsuko Hirose Plays Thoughtful, Impressionistic Pancho Vladigerov Suites

If Pancho Vladigerov’s music is becoming a meme, so much the better. And if the recent release of two versions of his Impressions suite is only a coincidence, it’s a case of great minds thinking alike. Nadejda Vlaeva’s recording, reviewed here last month, reveled in the composer’s protean individualism, morphing from the High Romantic to the Balkans and portents of where artists like Chano Dominguez would take flamenco jazz. Etsuko Hirose‘s recording – streaming at Spotify – has somewhat more restraint, the advantage being that she focuses on different subtleties in the composer’s portrait of a love affair.

The unhurried initial movement, if anything, is more circumspect than Vlaeva’s version. Likewise, Hirose’s take of the Embrace is a little more spacious but also reaches a triumphant plateau pretty early on and hangs there. The Waltz-Capriccio has more of a contrast between romping joy and reflective glitter, although Hirose also downplays the uneasy Saint-Saens-esque vampiness.

The Caress is very much that, while Elegance is matter-of-factly expressive High Romantic joy. Hirose holds back from dramatic overstatement in Confession, although she lets the jaunty ragtime loose in Laughter.

Ripe little crescendoing waves permeate Hirose’s interpretation of Passion: it’s a rewarding ride. The same for the pervasive darkness in Surprise, even when the rhythm picks up – Hirose draws a straight line back to nocturnal Janacek wanderings. The finale, Resignation has both muted distress and towering angst: what a story Hirose has to tell.

Vladigerov’s Suite Bulgare, Op.21 and the Prélude, Op.15. get a similarly insightful treatment here. The suite’s regally marching, colorfully ornamented, increasingly Middle Eastern-tinged first movement gives way to enticingly allusive, quintessentially Bulgarian tonalities in the misterioso second, Hirose opting to let it trail out with a ghostly menace.

The chromatically gleaming dance that follows seems on the muted side as well, until she launches into a stilleto attack to set up the cheerier if labyrinthine Ratschenitza coda. With the concluding prelude, Hirose reverts to a glistening, expressive Romanticism, arguably a more chromatic take on Rachmaninoff: her execution of those ratcheting climbs is breathtaking. This is a feast for fans of music from the Balkans as well as more harmonically predictable points further west.