Nemanja Radulović’s new album with his Double Sens ensemble, his first for Warner Classics, is a marked departure from some of his previous fare, including a Bach compilation (2016) or his performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto (2017), a departure inspired by his personal and musical reflections during the pandemic. In his forward, he mentions how that time period created borders in the world – something he sought to change by exploring and presenting world music and specific musical elements associated with certain regions. The result is a generous offering of works (arranged by Aleksandar Sedlar and Radulović himself) from his home region of the Balkans as well as East Asia and the Americas, among others.
Our travels start in Serbia with a medley, Hommage à Aleksandar Šišić (track 1). It’s clear that he and the ensemble are having fun which in turn spreads to the listener as well. I couldn’t help but bob my head to the vivacious dance rhythms. The middle section slows the pace down a bit, but the momentum isn’t lost as the bass section offers an unfailing bounce. Radulović is obviously at ease with a wide variety of technical demands: his facility with bowing gives every little slide the attention it deserves, while the pizzicatos are pointed and crisp.
Gelem, Gelem (track 3) continues to uphold the fiery energy we heard prior, but I liked how the soloist adjusts his tone in moments like 0’20” onwards–he gives the violin’s lower register a husky tone akin to an enticing whisper. When the same material repeats a little higher up, he retains the same velvety quality but with an added nostalgia. About a minute in, we’re treated to some lush singing from Ksenija Milošević and Miloš Mihajlović. They capture a longing, rhapsodic mood which balances out the furious momentum of the outer sections.
Listeners may recognize the tune from Manuel de Falla’s Spanish Dance (track 5), which starts off delightfully breezy with its tempo and timbre. Radulović once again has a mind for the details: his bow bounces are precise and give the triplets rhythmic tightness and an impeccable level of clarity. Just when I thought the music was getting a bit too light-handed, the performers fortunately defy expectation; 0’27” marks a move to thicker textures and greater intensity. We can hear how the soloist and ensemble adjust with a nicely-placed crescendo and ensuing dramatic swells.
Another medley appears in Hommage à Jean Carignan (track 10), but this time inspired by the regions of Quebec, Ireland, and Scotland. The folk quality of the music might call to mind the violin’s other name–fiddle. The enthusiasm of the performance makes it not at all hard to imagine a pastoral scene replete with joy and celebration. What follows in the Takeda Lullaby (track 11), a Japanese cradle song originating from a small village in Kyoto, could not be more different but is just as well conceived. Here, the performers capture the spirit of tenderness as well as a soothing openness of sound. Both the melodic and accompanimental textures in the first theme call to mind droplets of water, but there is a breathtaking transition to arco textures that brings out the lyricism of a human voice.
One of the final tracks is from Moldova: Gypsies Are Found Near Heaven is taken from a film score. Listen for some nice variations in color and character across each iteration of the beginning verses, ranging from coy to adamant. Meanwhile, the ongoing percussion adds interesting textual flavor and a drive central to the music.
The sound engineering is decently managed and adjusted here, especially given the wide expanse of styles present. While the liner notes allow Radulović plenty of space to describe his thematic aims (which he does with sincerity), what was regretfully missing were texts and translations for the works with a vocal component–I would have very much preferred to have actually understood what was being sung. This rather significant miss aside, the album itself is lovely: the works are thoughtfully chosen and well-arranged to give both the soloist and ensemble equal weight in evoking the vibrant character of each work. A most enjoyable listen and fascinating journey.
Nemanja Radulović – Violin
Warner Classics, CD 9029619839
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