Wonderful Timeless Russian Tunes
Few tunes are more uplifting, more cheerful than traditional Russian folk songs. If you have any doubt just listen to the new compilation released by ARC Music in the UK entitled “Old Mother Russia, Songs of the Taiga”. This is music that is very much alive and that makes you feel that way too. Even melancholy sounds joyful here as in the music interpreted by the Balalaika Ensemble Wolga, the famed group that contributed its performance to the soundtrack of one of the Indiana Jones series of films.
A fine mix of 20 instrumentals and sung pieces come to renew the time-honoured tradition of Russian folk songs, perfectly bound together by the typical, crystal clear ringing sound of the omnipresent balalaika, the three-string triangular shaped Russian guitar.
One you start playing the album you’ll find it difficult to press the stop button before the 20 songs are over. The melodies are superb and are borrowed from Russia, Ukraine, Georgia as well as from some other neighbouring Caucasian regions.
From the fast-paced “My Moscow” to the moving “Two Guitars” and then to “Where Are You” and “The Coachman”, the music takes the listener to a wonderful, light-spirited journey to the best that folk music has to offer. Many of the songs are arranged with the typical Russian pattern that makes the piece start with a slow, steady tempo and that then accelerates towards the end in a rousing, climaxing atmosphere.
In addition to the characteristic sound of the balalaika, the music is “flavoured” with the unique appeal of an all-men choir and some enchanting melodies. The “Manchurian Waltz”, for instance, is one example of the exquisite, lyrical melodies of Russian folklore. You will feel like singing along with the Ensemble Wolga throughout the entire album, even if you do not speak a word of Russian, and even if there are no lyrics at all, like with the instrumental-only parts!
As for the pieces written with a waltz-like 3/4 meter, like the “Manchurian Waltz”, “The Leaf of the Birch Tree” and the “Russian Polka”, if they don’t make you feel getting up and dancing (while singing at the same time…) then nothing will. Another trait of that folklore is the romanticism of the tunes. This is the East after all, the perfect ground for romantic music.
As pleasing as the album may be musically speaking, the mix could have been done a bit better. There is too much reverberation. With more restraint the producers would have obtained a better result. To me it is like a tasty dish to which too much salt was added. This is not what I call a clean sound, at least not by today’s standards. However, this remains a minor complaint and the disc shines from track 1 to track 20.