LongDistance | Harmonia Mundi

On a level accessible only to Turkish speakers, Macar is a story of war, of a young soldier who doesn't return and leaves mother and lover in anguish. It's a story told in flashbacks and flash-forwards. But on a purely musical level, Macar is a ravishing immersion into a stylistic hybrid, of troubadorial songs embedded in the timbres of string quartet mixed with qanun, oud, guitar, baglama, background vocals and Middle-Eastern hand percussion. As a concertized soundtrack of sorts, each track is merely a chapter in the story and clear-cut structural distinctions dissolve. There's interludes even within a movement, short instrumental taqsim improvisations by divan baglama or violin nestled into melodic group refrains, with the vocalist picking up unhurriedly thereafter.

As chamber music in a strongly folkloristic style, Macar paints an aural picture of Turkey just as Fahir Atakoglu achieved on the large symphonic scale with First of All [Koch 333362]. While the lyrics tell the story, the vocals here are simply another instrument. This recalls Johannes Brahms' use of his strings in the famous Clarinet Quintet. They aren't mere accompaniment for the ostensible wind soloist but full equals. Macar's instrumentalists -- including the phenomenal violinist Nedim Nalbantoglu in guest appearances -- all are soloists on the same footing as the plaintive female vocalist.

Macar thus isn't a booklet of individual songs but a quasi-symphonic programmatic tone poem with voice. It makes it all the more evocative, a very colorful soundtrack to an imaginary film with constantly shifting moods as the listener wanders his memory palace and obtains glimpses of wildly varying scenery and emotional messages. This is fully immersive music that needs to be listened to beginning to end to fully draw us into its world. As we expect from Harmonia Mundi, audiophile concerns are fully realized and the musicianship of each participant is of a very high caliber. Entering Macar isn't simply about entertainment or fetching vocals. It's a highly emotional journey from sunlight into darkness and back again. From the listener, it requires attentiveness and a willingness to travel uncharted terrain but nothing more - the musical language here is so powerful as to do the rest all by itself.