Reviews 09-23-2005  

Music Reviews 

 

The Seven Valleys

by Stellamara

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The group Stellamara is comprised of vocalist Sonja Drakulich, Gari Hegedus, Susu Pam[anin, Tobias Roberson, Jamie Paulos and Beth Bahia Cohen.  This recording also features some guest artists.  The group core is Sonja Drakulich and Gari Hegedus, who have written and arranged the compositions on this disk. 

The overall flavor of this group is Arabic, Turkish, and Persian.  Musical instrumentation includes hammered dulcimer, keyboards, mandocello, various Middle Eastern drums, viola, and the striking vocals of Sonja Drakulich.  The combination of Ms. Drakulich and Mr. Hegedus gives us a very professionally composed and produced work.   

This CD contains a total of twelve tracks at a total running time of 62:22.  The cover designs are worth noting for their lovely composition and style.  This is a Hearts of Space release. From the opening track Szerelem we get the feel of the entire work.  The soft yet clearly defined vocals of Ms. Drakulich open the CD and while never overpowering any of the tracks, it is the focus of most of these compositions.  The lyrics on this piece are Hungarian, and the piece is derived from a traditional Hungarian work.  In some cases, the accompanying liner notes contain translations of the lyrics.

 Resulina is much more Middle Eastern in flavor, more traditional.  There is energy in this piece, again highlighting the vocals but also very defined in the drumming and string work. Zablejalo Mi Agance is a traditional Bulgarian composition.  The viola takes on a “gypsy violin” feel, very forlorn and melancholy which is also reflected in Ms. Drakulichs vocal style, which fits with the lyrics.  There is a complete translation of a very sad tale which sets the tone for the composition itself.  Do take the time to read through the liner notes for the translations.

 The tempo picks up with Baraka, still conveying the Middle Eastern flavor, but with an upbeat swing.  Rhythm is the focus here, augmented by Ms. Drakulichs voice.  Nida features Portuguese lyrics, again included in the liner notes, and is a blessing for the traveler set to music.  Again, the feel of traditional folk music, featuring strings and some back drumming. 

 Kurdi Taksim is a short improvisational piece featuring Gari Hegedus on the oud (pronounced “ud”).  This is a Middle Eastern lute, the ancestor to the European lute.  This short piece highlights Mr. Hegedus proficiency with the instrument and is very delightful. The title trackSeven Valleys is a very melancholy piece, very Turkish, a love song according to the lyrics.  Again featuring the vocals of Ms. Drakulich, with Gari Hegedus on divan saz and baglama, the Turkish stringed instruments similar to lutes, and a daff, or a tambourine. 

 Firtina continues in the same vein, but more upbeat and without the vocals.  A much faster paced piece, again very Turkish in flavor featuring Gari Hegedus with the same assortment of instruments. Maliks returns to the Portuguese lyrics, another travelers blessing from the reading of the lyrics.  The piece features the sarod, an Indian stringed instrument, backed by the oud and the tambura.  Ms. Drakulich provides the vocals and Tobias Roberson fills in with the frame drum.  A very lovely piece, very lyrical, soft and impressive.

 Kyrie Eleison focuses on Sonja Drakulichs vocals arranged to harmonize with herself.  The instrumental accompaniment is minimal, allowing Ms. Drakulich to dominate this piece with her amazing vocal display.  This piece is adapted from the13th Century Gradual of Eleanor of Britiany and shows the groups ability to adapt and use Medieval Music as part of their repertoire.

 Persephone is a modern piece, placing violin and viola in the forefront of the piece, and surrounding it with tanbur, oud and keyboards.  A very smooth piece, it has a Middle East meets West feeling to it and is interesting in its composition and construction.  An interesting addition to this work, highlighting the artists’ ability.

 Sturmica is based on a traditional Balkan piece, again featuring the vocals of Ms. Drakulich, and has interesting lyrics that lead into a strong ending composition.  Upbeat, the piece finishes by once again highlighting the groups ability to present music with a Middle Eastern feel that is appealing to the Western ear.

Overall, this is a powerful showing for the group, highlighting their musical abilities and strong compositions.  This is a good choice as an introduction piece to the group, having various styles of their music.  It is a very interesting side trip into the World Music genre. 

Reviewed by MA Foster

 

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