Review ·

Composer and violinist Alexander Balanescu has done much to bridge the gap between classical and popular music, collaborating with Kate Bush, the Pet Shop Boys, Spiritualized and David Byrne. For his third Mute release, Balanescu turns his attention to his homeland, interpreting the music of revered Romanian folk singer Maria Tanase.


Balanescu's transparent arrangements are austere and unsentimental even at their most joyous, capturing the essence of the fatalistic Romanian folk philosophy that fueled Tanase's art. An ECM-like haze of reverb grants the music a peculiar detachedness, as if it could have been recorded a hundred years ago or yesterday. On four of the tracks, Tanase's voice, recorded about fifty years ago, appears out of the mist like a hallucination, adding to the air of timelessness.

Despite its seventy-eight-minute run time, Maria T is never exhausting. Its joys are simple, its concept is fully realized, and the performances are refined. Like the ghostly chiaroscuro image that peers out from its cover, Maria T is a work of mysterious, slightly distanced beauty.

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