Recordings In The Caucasus And Central Asia By The Gramophone Company
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Various Artists
Before the Revolution: A 1909 Recording Expedition In The Caucasus And Central Asia By The Gramophone Company
Topic (www.topicrecords.co.uk)

cd cover From April through September of 1909, German recording engineer Franz Hampe traveled through the southern regions of the Tsarist Russian Empire recording the music of each territory. He gathered nearly 1,200 samples of music, ranging from the men's choruses of Vladikavkaz to the Mugham of Tiflis (now Tbilisi) to the love songs of Merv (now Mari in Turkmenistan). The twenty-three examples on this disc show how richly varied musical culture was in pre-Soviet times. Ecstatic maqam singing, a jaunty accordion dance tune, and an epic Mavregi song cycle accompanied by only percussion were all recorded during Hampe's 5,000-mile trek. Cross-pollinations from other cultures contribute additional color to the tapestry. The double reed surnai of Skobelev bears a striking resemblance to the suona of its Chinese neighbor. The kamancha (spike fiddle) and dumbak (goblet drum) are borrowings (or lendings?) from the Middle East. The sound quality is amazingly clear in light of the early technology used, i.e., the flat disc recording technique developed for Hampe's sponsor, the Gramophone Company. (Of course, the digital remastering doesn't hurt.) Will Prentice's liner notes have lots of information about the individual areas and the project itself, but the reader is left wanting to know more about the various musical genres. Included are a brief bibliography and discography and a glossary of instruments. This astonishing bit of musical archaeology peels back the layers of time to bring to light nearly lost traditions. - Peggy Latkovich

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