Central Europe Review The International OSI Policy Fellowships (IPF) program
Vol 2, No 26
3 July 2000
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Bulgaria's Angelic Voices
Chor Angelite
Chor Angelite: Sacred and secular voices

Bulgarian ensemble Chor Angelite's UK concert tour reviewed
Diane Strickland

Bulgaria is famous for its long-standing vocal traditions, and Chor Angelite's recent tour brought the celestial sounds of Bulgaria to the concert halls of Britain. Their final performance, 30 May 2000 was in Beverley Minster, a Yorkshire cathedral of enormous beauty and proportions and the perfect venue for the 20 voices of Angelite to captivate the audience with their distinctive, glorious sounds.

Each member of the choir was dressed in the clothing of her native region, and the colourful display created a stunning visual accompaniment to the music. Directed by Georgy Petkov, Chor Angelite has been performing under its current name since 1995, and this was their first UK tour.

Petkov has conducted and toured with many of Bulgaria's finest choirs and is highly respected as a composer in Bulgaria. His compositions have been highlighted by several international performers, including the Chieftains. The choir, all women, has collaborated with saxophonist Jan Gabarek, the Moscow Arts Trio and others.

The secular and the sacred

Most of their repertoire is based upon centuries-old a capella music from the villages long isolated from the West, incorporating specific vocal techniques and microtonal intervals to provide the distinctive sound characteristic of Bulgarian vocal music. Throughout most of Bulgaria, women, their hands constantly busy with housekeeping, planting, childcare and needlework, traditionally performed the vocal music, while men worked in pastoral jobs, better suited for learning the traditional instruments.

In this concert, the warm-up group, Shine, won the audience over with their new sounds of traditional Scottish music, flecked with elements of jazz and blues. The trio features clarsach (Celtic harp) and vocals performed by Alyth McCormack, Mary Macmaster and Corrina Hewat. As yet, Shine has produced no CD, but they are definitely a group to follow closely. The programming of Shine followed by Angelite was a novel way to highlight traditional vocal music styles from two different parts of Europe.

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Angelite's program was divided into two parts, with a helpful synopsis of each song printed in English in the program. The first part contained Bulgarian orthodox music from their project, Mercy for the Living, a "panorama" of Bulgarian church music from the 13th century to the present.

Seven mesmerising selections were included in chronological order, with two particular favourites, Tebe Poem (Unto Thee We Sing) by Bulgarian Dobri Hristov and Blagosloven isi, Gospodi (Blessed Be the Lord) by Tchaikovsky. Although traditionally in the Bulgarian church, music was sung by men only, these sacred melodies were equally moving when sung by Chor Angelite, with the timbre of women's voices. It would be an interesting study to listen to this music recorded by Angelite, followed by recordings of a male choir, noting how the timbre of each group of voices changes and enhances the over-all impression of the music.

Songs from everyday life

The second part of their program was composed of secular traditional music, some performed in its original style and other songs arranged by various contemporary Bulgarian composers.

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The nine selections represented several different regions of Bulgaria and ranged from haunting laments such as Tih Vjatar Vee, in which a mother awaits her shepherd son who does not return, to Dyulmano Dyulbero, a spirited song about planting peppers that is also a play on words, based on a girl's name. Like all folk music, the lyrics of these old Bulgarian songs depict elements of daily life, from planting, harvesting and courtship to battles, loss and love.

The final song performed was the ingenious and haunting Mehmetio by Ivan Spassov. It is based on folk tunes from the Rhodope Mountains in southern Bulgaria and tells of a young shepherd who hears the voice of his beloved in the ringing of the sheep bells. The effect produced a clear visual image and the bewitching tone of many bells gently ringing.

Chor Angelite are excellent ambassadors for Bulgarian music as they continue centuries-old vocal traditions, often daringly incorporating instrumental collaborations, elements of contemporary composition, and other world music styles into their performances and leaving their audiences eager for more of their incomparable sound.

Diane Strickland, 3 July 2000

Other articles of interest in CER:


  • Mercy for the Living
    Bulgarian orthodox church music
    Buy this CD from Amazon.co.uk
  • Fly, Fly My Sadness
    Featuring Tuvan throat singers; based on traditional music of Bulgaria, Tuva and Russia
    Buy this CD from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
  • Lale Li Si
    Selections from Melody, Rhythm and Harmony
    Buy this CD from Amazon.co.uk
  • Melody, Rhythm and Harmony
    Double CD of traditional Bulgarian music
  • From Bulgaria with Love
    Experimental pop CD
    Buy this CD from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
  • A Cathedral Concert
    Recorded in Bremen, 1987
And on video...

Chor Angelite recordings all appear on the German label Jaro

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