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Nataŝa Mirković – De Ro and Matthias Loibner
Ajvar & Sterz
Bigathing, very special music / Galileo

Ajvar & Sterz is a collaboration between vocalist Nataŝa Mirković – De Ro and hurdy-gurdy master Matthias Loibner. Focusing on the music of South-Eastern Europe (with a handful of Austrian tunes and even a piece by Franz Schubert), Ajvar & Sterz is a nod to the disparate cultures that were united (often uneasily) under the Austrian Empire. Ajvar is a Serbo-Croation vegetable relish, made of eggplant, garlic and peppers, while Sterz is a polenta-like mush of fried flour from the Austrian region of Steiermark. A slightly unpalatable image of these two delicacies, under the Hapsburg double-headed eagle graces the CD itself.

Just as the empire allowed musical and culinary ideas to spread from Albania to the Alps, Ajvar and Sterz navigates between what is familiar to both musicians and what is slightly exotic to each. Right from the first track, “But Roma,” an arrangement of a traditional Roma song, the flexibility of both Mirković – De Ro and Loibner is evident. Combining her rich, expressive voice with Loibner's fluid (and equally expressive) playing, “But Roma” is driving and passionate. On other tracks, such as the Albanian tune “Të Martoi”, the melancholic sounds often heard in southeastern Europe are emphasized to good effect by both musicians. This melancholia is balanced by songs like “Čiča Peče Rakiju”, a spirited ode to moonshine and the makers thereof, delivered in a playful full-voice supported by lively counter-rhythms of the trompette.

Probably the biggest surprise on Ajvar & Sterz is “Der Leiermann” by Franz Schubert, a musician not generally associated with the hurdy-gurdy. However the excellent liner notes point out that the piano part in the original composition was imitative of the hurdy-gurdy, so the effect is quite natural sounding. Mirković – De Ro deftly handles the tender melody, demonstrating an appropriate lightness of tone that is a marked contrast to her full-voice that is highlighted on the rest of the album.

Also slightly surprising, given its geographical origin, although sharing in many of the musical roots as the rest of the tracks, is “Adio Querida”, a haunting nostalgic remembrance of lost homelands from the Sephardic tradition. This tune, said to be the inspiration to Verdi's “Addio, del passato”, fits in beautifully with the rest of the tracks, so even though it is the only Spanish-language track, it neither sticks out nor comes across as trivial eclecticism.

The sound quality is quite good, although there are times when a bass line or two come through the mix with a slight clunkiness, reminiscent of the basslines in the art rock band Tuxedomoon. Even with this heavy-handed bass line, the record is gorgeous and conveys a musical intimacy between Loibner and Mirković – De Ro. As mentioned earlier, the liner notes are excellent, giving the lyrics to the songs in the original languages and in three translations. - Erik Keilholtz

CD available from cdRoots

Other recordings in this review series:
Les maîtres de la vielle baroque - French Music for Hurdy-Gurdy
Les Eclairs de Musique: Les Saisons Amusantes
Matthias Loibner: Vielle ŕ roué
Tunji Beier and Matthias Loibner: Zykado

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CD available from cdRoots

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