Ensemble Pesnokhorki
Traditional Songs of Cossacks, Vol. 1
(Face Music Switzerland, 1998)

The Cossacks are peasants from the Ukraine and areas south of Moscow who formed military units to serve the Russian empire. They are known more for fighting than music, although they had a culture that included folk songs.

The booklet that accompanies this CD gives a pretty good history, although it is obviously not written by a native speaker of English. It also describes each song, and provides an English translation of the lyrics.

The songs included here are basically vocal, with occasional accompaniments by Russian fiddle, reed pipe, small wooden zither, tambourine, sleigh bell, ocarina, spoons and accordion. All 21 tracks on this CD are rather simple; each is sung by a chorus, with differing soloists.

Some tunes might remind listeners of something they might hear at a Renaissance faire. The women's voices are unusual. They sound rather harsh at times, and the harmonies sometimes sound out of tune to the Western ear.

This group of four men and three women has chosen songs on a variety of topics. Many are dance tunes. As might be expected, some celebrate war: "Out of the woods of spears and swords/there rides a contingent of a hundred Cossacks." But there are also bridal songs, songs celebrating the Cossack life, and others that express the yearning of a traveler for the homeland ("Alas, my dear home country...").

Although the subject matter varies, there is a sameness in the songs. All are sung in a variation of call and response, with a soloist beginning and others joining in with him. This is only one style of Cossack music. Perhaps other CDs by this troupe (this is called volume one) cover other types.

This is not something you will wish to pop into the CD for casual listening, but it is interesting for presenting a type of music rarely heard in the U.S.

- Rambles
written by Dave & Laura Howell
published 4 September 2004