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MUSIC

Review: Familiar musical works go mystical

"THE TAROGATO is an ancient [woodwind] instrument used in the Balkans, praised for its mysterious sound and wide range of expression. Because of its original structure and unique properties, great effort and technique is required to play it," says jazz musician Jozef Brisuda.
"These attributes classify the tarogato as a truly rare instrument."
The tarogato, which musicians agree is hard to play because it is so difficult to keep in tune, acquired the form that is known today in 1889. Since the production of tarogatos has all but ceased, players usually buy older ones and have them reconstructed. Outside the Balkans there are a few Slovaks and even some Americans who play the instrument.


Zoltán Grunza: Tárgogató
photo: Courtesy of Zoltán Grunza

Tárogató

Produced by: Pyramída, Slovenský rozhlas
Available at: Specialised music shops, e.g. Music Fórum on Palackého 2 (Reduta), Bratislava
Price: up to Sk300
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

"THE TAROGATO is an ancient [woodwind] instrument used in the Balkans, praised for its mysterious sound and wide range of expression. Because of its original structure and unique properties, great effort and technique is required to play it," says jazz musician Jozef Brisuda.

"These attributes classify the tarogato as a truly rare instrument."

The tarogato, which musicians agree is hard to play because it is so difficult to keep in tune, acquired the form that is known today in 1889. Since the production of tarogatos has all but ceased, players usually buy older ones and have them reconstructed. Outside the Balkans there are a few Slovaks and even some Americans who play the instrument.

One such musician is Bratislava Conservatory graduate and highly acclaimed clarinettist Zoltán Grunza, who collaborates with many musical ensembles here as well as abroad. He decided to take up the challenge that this instrument offered. Several times over the last decade he went to Slovak Radio's Bratislava recording studio, where he played with other musicians. They recorded an album consisting of 12 classical and traditional folk compositions.

Shortly before Christmas, an hour-long CD entitled simply Tárogató was released. The album is a digest of Grunza's rich music and is a lively yet relaxing listening experience. It flows smoothly through a blend of fine classical, jazz and folk music, all churned up by the tarogato's deep sound.

Grunza's tarogato waltzes easily through these different musical genres. He has mastered the instrument to such an extent that he gives the long, more serious tones an elevated aristocratic punch and the short ones an airy lightness.

In shape, the tarogato resembles a soprano saxophone made from hardwood. Its basic sound recalls both the clarinet and oboe, however it has a much broader range of tonal possibilities, making this an instrument that can melodically fit almost any genre.

While the whole CD is a pleasure to the ears, the first track highlights the original qualities of this virtually unknown instrument particularly well. There couldn't be a better melody to start the album with than the famous and exotic song Caravan.

The track composed by Duke Ellington and Juan Tizol, and arranged by Karol Ondreička, perfectly underlines the tarogato's specific sound - fully enriching it but not pushing it too far. This instrumental piece begins with a gentle tambourine rhythm, which is soon broken by a sharp sound from the tarogato, which then leads into a jazzy drum beat and strings.

The lively, rhythmical tarogato tunes in the first composition are followed by two grand classical tracks: Adagio by the Venetian musician Benedetto Marcello and a glorious extract from the ballet Swan Lake - Romanca in F minor - by Russian composer Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky.

Next is highly rhythmical arrangements by Ondreička of Johann Sebastian Bach's Badinerie and Zequinha Abreu's Tico Tico. Even though it seems that Grunza's lungs might fall short trying to keep up with the pace of the music, the lightness with which he performs - especially in the second, faster part of the piece - is overwhelming.

In contrast to the classical and jazz pieces performed in the first part of the CD, the second half offers a nice tour through traditional Balkan and Slovak tunes arranged for tarogato and orchestra. Swift dances are interchanged with slow relaxing movements. The tarogato, flawlessly floating above the stringed instruments, helps to sharpen the distinctive features of these regional melodies.

Listening to the CD's works in their original forms would undoubtedly be a rich musical experience in its own right. But we already know what that sounds like. When one listens to this mixture of works interpreted by the distinctive, mystical tarogato, the ears hear something completely new. Something everybody should experience.

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