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CD Review: Mazaika

Sarah Harrison, violin
Igor Outkine, Russian button-accordion


Flight of the Bumblebee:Korsakov
O Solo Mio:Capua
Be my Love:Brodsky/Cahn
The Hot Canary:Poliakin
Orange Blossom Special:Trad.
Dinah:Akst/Lewis & Young
Lara's Theme:Jarre
Dark Eyes:Trad.
The Lark:Dinicu
Smoke on the Water:Deep Purple

total time: 53:25
Released in 2001
Review date: June 2002

Introduction by Henry Doktorski:

In February, 2002, while perusing my monthly copy of The American Guild of Organists magazine, I noticed an unusual advertisement for a violin and accordion duo by the prestigious Phillip Truckenbrod Concert Artists agency:

"Mazaika is as unusual and versatile a duo as one is likely to find on the American stage: classical and folk music, violin and accordion and maybe even banjo and balalaika, song and (if the mood hits) dance, world music, gypsy music, operatic arias, and presentation in French, German, Spanish, Italian, English or any language required by the presenter. The program can be serious or lighthearted or, best of all, both combined in a satisfying tour de force.

"Anyone unfamiliar with the Russian classical accordion tradition will be stunned to learn the instrument's true versatility; evoking the streets of Paris or a gypsy campfire, yes, but just as easily fooling the ear by pretending to be a chamber orchestra or an organ."

My curiosity was piqued (how many classical accordionists do you know who are represented by such a large and important booking company?) and so I emailed the agency for more information. Phillip Truckenbrod kindly sent me a beautiful brochure about the group, as well as a compact disc, which the agency uses for promotional purposes.

The performer's credits were respectable: Violinist Sarah Harrison studied at the Guildhall School in London where she founded and led the Covent Garden String Quartet. Her subsequent career has ranged from working with Django Bates, playing with storytellers in Marrakech, acting and playing in London theatre productions and with the Opera Circus, and even appearing with roving Mariachi bands in Mexico.

Accordionist and tenor Igor Outkine studied classical accordion and traditional singing in his native Russia. He performed extensively with his country's top folk ensembles and at the Rozovsky Theater in Moscow as a musician and actor. He has appeared at MTV awards ceremonies, worked in film and television, and maintained a career as a classical accordion recitalist. His instrumental and vocal range encompasses classical, jazz, and pop.

Although this CD is not for sale through Phillip Truckenbrod and is used for promotional purposes, I decided to ask The Free-Reed Review staff reviewer Bob Berta to write a review anyway to help give the duo some publicity.

Review by Robert Karl Berta:

Before I get too far into this review I have to tell you sadly that it isn't available. It was created as a sampler of the various music styles they can perform. Normally I would find fault with a CD that covers so much musical territory, but recognizing that it is intended as their "resume" I can understand the musical title mix.

Like Henry (who wrote the prologue above) I was really interested in finding out what the prestigious booking agents of Truckenbrod found in this duo that would make them want to become their booking agents.

A quick glance at the various selections might give you the impression that you will hear some well worn tunes - boring. But after listening to the whole CD I can tell you that you will find some real gold here. While some of the tunes weren't among my favorites on the CD...over all there were several that were truly remarkable. But before I get into the actual music performed...I wanted to discuss the musicians themselves. While I am an accordionist and love the accordion, I have to warn that you won't hear any amazing virtuosity here from Igor. While the accordion playing is certainly competent it tended to fall into a mode of background accompaniment for the violin on most numbers. But when Igor turned on his real "instrument" his was wonderful.

I enjoyed his playing and loved his singing, especially on the traditional Dark Eyes. But when Sara played her violin...oohhhh...heaven. That woman can play the violin! From the well worn "Flight of the Bumblebee" and "Czardas" to my absolute favorite on the CD - Dinicu's "The Lark" - I was mesmerized with her playing. The phrasing and technique were impeccable. And the duet played in perfect counterpoint to each other. They were having so much fun together it was infectious.

While I enjoyed the CD, there were a few numbers which I found less than perfect mainly because they just didn't work well with the duo. One of my favorite light operatic numbers is "Be My Love". I have a recording by Enrico Carusso of that tune that always results in goose bumps. While this was a nice didn't seem to quite have the fire I was looking for. Likewise Gershwin's "Summertime" was lacking in the bit of jazzy swing which the song responds well too. On the other hand "Dinah" was a spirited fun filled rendition. And Igor's rendition of "Dark Eyes" was terrific. The traditional Kalinka proved to be one of the better arrangements. But my favorite was "The Orange Blossom Special," one of the best renditions I have ever heard. But as I said before, my absolute favorite is her rendition of Dinicu's "The Lark." I have played the CD over and over and that one piece is truly a high point in musical interpretation by Sara.

OK...I have described the amazing and just I have one that I really didn't like? I have to admit that I am not a big fan of a lot of popular music..even when it is played very well. But in spite of being played well....I just didn't see the point of the composition by Deep Purple - "Smoke on the Water." Perhaps trying to cover every musical style they can perform they will select a few tunes that some just don't like. But overall this is a very rewarding album. In spite of the huge range of musical styles they did a great job of making them work fairly well together. Is there one thing that I took away from this album..knowing that I can't buy a copy? Now that I heard what they can can bet I would LOVE to go to one of their concert performances. I bet this would be one heck of a concert (as long as they skip "Smoke on the Water").

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