Album Recommendation: Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares
Many people would be familiar with my love of several obscure ensembles from a range of countries in Africa, Asia and eastern Europe, but Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares has always been something special. It stands out in the rich history of Bulgarian and Balkan music, and in my opinion, is one the most phenomenal ensembles in the world.
Marketed to the world as ‘Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares’ by Swiss musicologist Marcel Cellier in the 1970s and 80s, the Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir is a group of ensemble and solo singers who perform modern arrangements of Bulgarian folk tunes. Several albums and compilations exist of their work, each of which are an excellent record of their distinctive group sound.
The group was originally recommended to me along with a thorough and earnest appraisal of the unity of their sound and purpose as a group, which can be heard in every aspect of their playing – the blend of voices and dynamics; precision of melodic ornaments; variety of vocal tones; their intonation in dissonant and intricate harmonies; and complex and shifting rhythms, all sound effortless and infallibly together.
The ensemble can seemingly turn on a dime, shifting dynamics and moods with precision, and the soloists project an incredible array of dramatic vocal techniques above the shifting layers of ensemble accompaniment. Many of the vocal techniques and melodic elements are based on traditional Bulgarian singing styles, but regardless of the origins or idiosyncrasies of the music, the ensemble itself would surely qualify among the most unified and synchronised groups around.
Overall, the sound of Bulgarian choirs may be unfamiliar to many people, but the quality of the singing and ensemble are well worth experiencing. As I’ve found, it’s presented in an incredibly accessible way, even to unfamiliar ears, and can serve as a path to further exploration of the deep and distinctive worlds of folk musics.
Words by James Ball.