Tsinskaro is a vocal ensemble of 4 singers based in Melbourne, who dedicate themselves to the performance of the polyphonic folk music of Georgia. Not the Georgia of the USA, but the Georgia in the Caucasus mountains, at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. In ancient times this land was the crossroads between the Hellenic civilisation to the south and the Tartar lands to the north. Georgian folk music includes one of the very few oral polyphonic traditions in the world, and richly deserves the passion of the members of Tsinskaro to bring this unfamiliar music to a wider audience.

Some of the music consisted of single phrases sung by one singer answered by longer four-part phrases, while some was polyphonic throughout. I was fascinated by two aspects of their performance from the very beginning of the recital.

One was their particular tuning system, with high minor thirds and minor sevenths, very much closer to that of the natural harmonic series than the equal temperament our Western ears are now used to. I may be wrong, but I think these singers made no conscious effort to sing thus, more that it is simply the tuning system of the music they sing and that’s how it is.

The other was the effect their “open throat” style of singing made on the difference between the pure intervals (fourths and fifths) and what in the West we’d call dissonances (2nds and 7ths). Tsinskaro didn’t emphasise the “dissonances” at all, they just let them happen, they let the harmonic clashes speak for themselves. It sounds so simple, but the effect of this was thrilling, again and again.

In their delightfully informal introductions to the songs Tsinskaro made a distinction between music from the east and the west of the country. The music from the west, which borders the Black Sea, they described as more harmonically rugged, and indeed it behaves even less like the counterpoint we know in the Western tradition, with its parallel fifths and ninths than the songs from the east of the country.

The texts of the songs included love-songs, religious songs, and songs about daily life. I would have liked translations, not knowing any Georgian, but I sensed that many of the audience were familiar with both the language and the musical tradition, perhaps belonging to Melbourne’s Georgian community choir. For me the whole evening was a revelation, a thrilling exposure to a tradition I am unfamiliar with.

Trawling the web, I am left with the impression that this performance was, if not their very first public concert on this scale, at least among the first. If this is the case, their level of technical skill and polish was truly astonishing. I will follow their progress with zeal.

Event details

The Boite & Melbourne Recital Centre present
Georgian Songs
Tsinskaro

Venue: Melbourne Recital Centre | 31 Sturt St, Southbank VIC
Dates: 13 August 2022
Bookings: www.melbournerecital.com.au

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