Yungchen Lhamo & Anton Batagov
In 1998, I attended WOMAD USA and witnessed an entrancing performance by Tibetan vocalist Yungchen Lhamo on a small stage. I witnessed a second performance by the vocalist, equally mesmerizing but on the main stage at WOMAD USA in 2001. Although I acquired Lhamo’s recordings 2nd and 3rd), on the Real World label, I didn’t care for the musical production on the recordings which buried Lhamo’s vocals underneath high-end guitar washes and programming. Lhamo has one of those voices that works best in an a cappella setting or lightly framed by a single musical instrument.
Fortunately for us, the vocalist paired up with Russian classical pianist Anton Batagov on the recording, Tayatha where the musicians read each others' instincts. Batagov’s piano though light on the keys possesses shades of virtuoso and waxes musical poetry. The piano and vocals show up in equal amounts and the piano goes beyond merely accompanying a vocalist. Meanwhile, Lhamo lends an insightful ear listening carefully so that her voice matches the contours of the piano. And since both performers are practicing Buddhists, plenty of spiritual references in the text and reverence in the music radiate off this CD. This recording feels as peaceful as Lhamo’s debut recording on Real World Records where she performed a cappella.
Due to the Tibetan modes (scales) in which Lhamo sings coupled with the slow pace of the piano, the songs come off as either relaxing or slightly melancholic. You won’t hear any energetic Tibetan folk songs here, but you will fill up with an intangible beauty from this piano vocal combo. On Flying Dakini (track 2), Lhamo does sing a folk type line that feels playful even if the song’s topic falls on the serious side. Your Kindness opens with powerful a cappella vocals then Batagov’s piano swirls and dances its way into the center with Lhamo’s vocals growing more powerful. We listen to this song and we know why the 14th Dalai Lama named Lhamo “the Goddess of Song”. With 7 long-playing tracks, Batagov asks us to listen to the recording in one sitting to experience its continuity. This is good advice. You might even fall into a trance and press replay.