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The Rusalka Cycle: Songs Between the Worlds
Diaphonica Productions (

The San Francisco-based choral ensemble Kitka have been taking on the complexities of Eastern European vocal music since 1979, and their nine female voices have sharpened to an extraordinary degree. Now they've teamed with Ukrainian singer/composer/arranger/musical director Mariana Sadovska for The Rusalka Cycle: Songs Between the Worlds, a musical exploration of Slavic folklore revolving around Rusalki- spirits of women who died in an untimely or unjust manner and possess supernatural powers in their afterlife (some people even believe they had a hand in the Chernobyl disaster). This CD is basically the soundtrack for a full-on stage production performed in Kitka's hometown, and though I'm sure it's better with visuals, the music alone is quite an experience. Drawing on vocal traditions from Croatia, Bulgaria, Albania, Ukraine, Georgia, Bosnia, Romania, Corsica and the US, the singing is beautifully fragile at times and frighteningly intense at others. Voices converge and scatter dramatically amid lullaby-like swells, sobs, banshee wails, lamenting tones and prayerful intonations that make you unsure if you're listening in on a dream or a nightmare. But it's precisely that mystique that makes the CD so gripping. If these are intended as voices of spirits who inhabit a world beyond, they aren't about to unlock any of its secrets. Sadovska's arrangements can be both comforting and unsettling, and whether the women of Kitka are singing unaccompanied or with subtly dramatic support from cellos and percussion, these songs are as surreal as they are exciting. - Tom Orr

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