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Márta Sebestyén I Can See the Gates of Heaven Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

A noticeably more austere proposition than wider-known previous works.

Michael Quinn 2009

Almost a decade and a half after winning an Oscar and a Grammy Award in the same year, Márta Sebestyén makes another bid for international attention with material sourced from considerably closer to home.

I Can See the Gates of Heaven first appeared on her own newly-founded Viva La Musica label in her native Hungary last year, and collects together songs and hymns from the folk and religious traditions of the Carpathian Basin. The English Patient, to whose 1996 soundtrack Sebestyén contributed haunting, caught-on-the-air vocals, it ain’t.

It’s certainly no less heartfelt and honed, however, artfully weaving more than 30 individual songs into seven medleys supported by lutenist Mátyás Bolya and bagpiper and ethnic flute virtuoso and sometime member of the Békés Band, Balázs Szokolay Dongó, each of whom also double up on zither and saxophone with Sebestyén herself adding occasional tin whistle and hand drum accompaniment.

The only song to be heard in its entirety is Flower Gatherers, a gentle bucolic rhapsody that deftly combines variations on its once-popular volta rhythm from Navarro in the Basque country and Venice. And for all the religious intent or association of many of the assembled songs, there are still moments of decidedly secular abandon – Driving Away Sorrow, in particular, pairing two traditional Csángó pieces with dancing delight – and evocative glances towards a more epic age and antique musical accent in the good-natured tribute to Good King Matthias.

Approach with a degree of caution if you’re coming to Sebestyén via The English Patient, Peter Gabriel’s Big Blue Ball project or from her collaborations with French duo Deep Forest, whose Grammy-winning fusion of Eastern European gypsy songs and electronica peaked with 1995’s Boheme. I Can See the Gates of Heaven is a noticeably more austere proposition, albeit none the less admirable and enjoyable for that.

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