Romanian expatriate vocalist Sanda Weigl has quite a personal history. She first learned gypsy songs as a child and found early success as a child star on Romanian national television. Later she was a rock singer in East Berlin, and was tossed into prison for protesting against the communist regime. In the 1990s she moved to New York and recently began performing again. This album is a collaboration with a number of downtown NYC's finest, including pianist Anthony Coleman, guitarist Marc Ribot, and the peerless Glen Velez on hand percussion.
To call Weigl's voice "powerful" would be an understatement. She has an impressive vocal range. Her range, timbre and declamatory style makes for an intriguing presentation of passion and even sexuality that is a synthesis of male and female. She adopts a male persona in at least four of the songs. For example "Cintec din Oas," which presents the "desperate cries of a man rejected and betrayed by all the women in the world".
Her interpretations are dramatic, even theatrical, but never "over the top". A comparison with Diamanda Galas might have some resonance, but Weigl's purpose is not to shock, but rather to communicate the vibrant life force inherent in the music. Which she does admirably, with an energy and panache that speaks of her intimate familiarity with the material.
Much credit is due also to Anthony Coleman's sensitive arrangements. The opening track, "Trenule masina mica," pretty much consists of Weigl's voice and Velez' accompaniment on hand drums, but Coleman slips in an almost imperceptible drone halfway through the piece, and then a soft, skeletal piano counterpoint for a few stanzas. It's very simple, but also hauntingly effective.
The traditional Romanian cimbalom (dulcimer or zither) is the sole accompaniment on the dramatic and stately "Cine iubeste si lasa." The table-thumping "Ciulenadra, described as "possibly the most popular song in Romania", is at the other end of the scale. A full ensemble goes full tilt, starting with a small string section, accordion and then swooping trombones and a squealing clarinet, as the pace of the piece doubles and then doubles again before ending in a wild frenzy.
Always though, it comes back to Weigl's extraordinary voice. And if you're a fan of vocal ethnic music of any sort, that's something you don't want to miss.
Reviewer: Bill Tilland - BBC
released July 2, 2002
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