KITKA Womans Vocal Ensemble
Vincent Louis Carrella
Women's group clings to exotic, tonal center

Some of Kitka singers' efforts clash; some tunes hang in air

If we didn't know that the music Kitka sang Saturday night was so old and so traditional, we might have taken it for avant-garde.
The eight singers, including leader Tzvetanka Varimezova, specialize in women's vocal music from Eastern Europe. The group's repertoire encompassed Bulgaria, Georgia, Russia, Corsica, Croatia and Armenia. Just one number, a Georgian hymn, was harmonized in the familiar major-minor way. Exotic scales yielded exotic chords in the rest of the 26 songs. In many of them, solo melisma wrapped around and sometimes clashed with drones held by one or more voices. This muisic never budges from its original tonal center, but some of the tunes ended hanging in the air, unresolved.
Dance tunes, in the minority on this program, turned on propulsive rhythms couched in meters just irregular enough if you don't know they're coming. "Reche Mama de Me Zheni," in which a daughter sasses her mother about mom's choices for prospective husbands, bounces along marrily in threes until the singer yips and oops, we hit a toe-stubbing bar in two.
Most of the songs were based on prose speech rhythm and sounded metrically free and unbarred. The texts are laments, musings about men, declarations of intent of various kinds and accounts of village life — a feud between a daughter and her sister-in-law, for example. In the Croatian "Rlichko Kolo", the women declare their intent to sing as they please whenever they please. It plays out in topping antiphonal phrases between sub-groups of three and four voices, with the occasional solo exclamation. The sad songs tended to focus on a solo voice, usually Varimezova's highly focused, penetrating alto, ornamenting gorgeously and conveying feeling in throbbing dissonance.
The Milwaukee Choral Artists joined Kitka in a set of more elaborately arranged songs. Ivan Varimezov came on at intervals to play the gajda, a wonderfully raucous Bulgarian bagpipe.
Early Music Now presented this concert in the ideal location, the Basilica of St. Josaphat. The wildly colorful walls suited this colorful music, and the brilliant acoustic turned suddenly hair-raising when the singers hit certain pitches and chords certain ways. If you didn't know better, you'd think some post-modern composer was behind it.
Tom Strini, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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