Music of Eastern Europe visits the musically fertile territories east of the Danube, from Hungary and Romania to Croatia, Slovakia and western Ukraine. The Harmonia sextet consists of Walt Mahovlich on accordion; Alexander Fedoriouk on cimbalom, buben and voice; Beata Begeniova on vocals; Marko Dreher on violin, viola and tamburica; Andrej Pidkivka on sopika, nai, tylynka and drymba; and Adam Good on bass and guitar. Many of these players live in Cleveland, a city that until recently held the largest population of Hungarians outside Budapest and still houses more Slovenians than any other city in the world, a result of the political upheaval in those former Eastern bloc nations that has driven many to emigrate to the Americas and Ohio in particular.
A new wave of émigrés in the 1990s included musicians who formerly benefited from state-funded supports for the arts and now settled in already established Slovac enclaves in the US. The band Harmonia is the result of this convergence, of musicians finding each other in coffee shops or hearing about band leader Mahovlich looking for a cymbalom for Cleveland State University, an instrument not built in the US. When word spread about it and that Mahovlich had found one, cymbalom players approached him to play it and Alexander ended up a member of the group. Meeting up in America opened up each member's cultural heritage to the others for a cross pollination that wouldn't occur in their homelands where a Bulgarian player wouldn't bother playing in the Yugoslav style when hundreds of Yugoslavians already did so very well.
Harmonia thus plays new and old folk songs as well as highly instrumental virtuoso dances like the Romanian sirba, Bulgarian horo, Hungarian verbunko and Ukrainian arkan. There's a Hungarian suite in the Gipsy style of crying solo violin that proceeds from a meditative rubato-laden intro to a medium-tempo andalgó before becoming even livelier in the concluding csárdás and friss csárdás pieces, with the melody riding atop the agitated runs of cymbalom and growling sawing double bass. "Dze ty idzeš" is a romantic Slovak song from Zemplin county introduced by pan flute that sings about rural life but also refers to the pains incurred when leaving one's home land. A gorgeous suite of three Romungro Gipsy songs then concludes Harmonia's vibrant and generously long CD concert.
Who would have thought America's heartland would become the unwitting host for the revival of Carpathian folk music? Appearing on Richard Hagopian's Traditional Crossroads labels further rewards us with excellent recording quality, something that can be challenging when obtaining original music from Eastern Europe. If you love this type of music as I do, Harmonia's album belongs squarely in your collection.