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The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices with Lisa Gerrard, Queen Elizabeth Hall review - voices from another world | reviews, news & interviews

The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices with Lisa Gerrard, Queen Elizabeth Hall review - voices from another world

The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices with Lisa Gerrard, Queen Elizabeth Hall review - voices from another world

The enduring power of the choir founded in 1950s communist Bulgaria

Bulgaria’s world music pioneers

A hushed expectation filled the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Friday night in advance of the return on stage of the legendary Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares (now rebranded as The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices), who graced Kate Bush’s 1989 classic The Sensual World with their astonishing style of throat singing, combining drones, quarter tones and complex rhythms, harmonies combining in marvellous permutations, seemingly colliding into each other from different planes. It’s an otherworldly vocal sound, and very earthy at the same time, impressionistic and fantastical, the chosen lead vocalists soaring high over the rest.

Their own classic albums, released on 4AD in the late 1980s at the behest of convert Pete Murphy of Bauhaus, won a Grammy Award in 1989, brought them to the world’s concert halls, and helped forge the new record-shop genre of world music.

Their first album in two decades, BooCheeMish (4AD), was co-written and performed with Dead Can Dance vocalist Lisa Gerrard, whose work was hugely influenced by the Bulgarian choir. This concert at the Southbank was her first stage appearance with them, though she left her arrival to the second half, making an ecstatically received entrance to a full house of her fans.

A short sweet set of sean-nos Gaelic song from young Irish singer Sibéal passed before a five-piece band appeared, featuring gadulka (a kind of Bulgarian violin), the kaval flute, guitar, drum and a beat boxer of frankly astonishing dexterity. They played a beguiling Bulgarian folk-jazz introduction before the arrival of the 18 women in splendid costumes, who launched straight in to it with a full choir behind two soloists performing mesmerising vocal acrobatics leading into folkloric duets, raw, sweeping, and swooping harmonies, the flinty, bare sound of the gadulka and kaval especially suited to the timbre of the Bulgarian voices.

Gerrard’s performance, in a vast flowing gown, scarves and a high, bejewelled headdress, began with a solo improvisation, her vocal drenched in echo, like a heavy musk – too much at first, but her vocal stylings contrasted richly against the choir’s own. If their massed vocal movements are redolent of high clear mountain streams, then Gerrard’s is a river valley mist, perfumed and rich. For the set’s latter half, we heard songs from the new album, some co-written with Gerrard, including “Unison”, “Mani Yanni” and the night’s closer, “Shandi Ya”. There were three wildly received encores before the final standing ovation. The extraordinary power of the mystery of the Bulgarian Voices has not diminished.

The choir performed mesmerising vocal acrobatics leading into folkloric duets and sweeping harmonies

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Average: 4 (1 vote)

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