Classical CD Reviews

“I Do”: The Wedding Album – Polkastra/ Isabel Bayrakdarian sop./ David Krakauer, clarinet – Ancalagon

Polkastra’s second takes the concept a whole lot further, and well worth the wait.

Published on February 26, 2013

“I Do”: The Wedding Album – Polkastra/ Isabel Bayrakdarian sop./ David Krakauer, clarinet – Ancalagon ANC140, 66:18 ****:

I was wondering when the second Polkastra album would be forthcoming. Lara St. John’s polka brainchild revived a type of music—no, not really revived, but presented for the first time for a modern audience—one normally doesn’t think of in terms of any degree of seriousness or even general entertainment value outside of the occasional acquaintance from Johann Strauss or on the elementary school dance floor. As a genre it is not to everyone’s taste certainly, but Polkastra has at least brought to our attention the richness and expansiveness of a category that there is much more to it than we probably ever dreamed, and that its value is far from just dancing. Indeed, pathos, beauty, high spirits, great fun, and some incredibly poignant melodies are all to be found within its purview.

If the last album introduced us to the polka per se, this one seeks to stretch the limits a little more in terms of inclusiveness. What we get in this wonderfully conceived concept album are not only polkas but the versatility of a polka band as well, in this case one that happens to be performing at a wedding. Would that most wedding parties were fortunate enough to have the quality of these musicians! For what they give moves beyond focusing on the specificities of one musical type to the quality of cross-breeding into other music as well, sometimes with astonishing results.

Don’t snob-up at this album; though it is done with a great deal of humor and hijinks, performance quality, even when intentionally “bad” (it takes a lot of talent to make bad sound good and not just really bad) is as high as you could wish, and all of the magic and merriment of a wedding ceremony are captured to rabid effect. After all, most weddings are a conglomeration of happiness and sadness, highs and lows, and ups and downs—this album shows the full spectrum in a spirit of warmth and good feelings.

How they snagged Isabel Bayrakdarian into the fold is a mystery, but her rendition of Schubert’s Ave Maria is worth the price of the album alone. Not that I would want to be without Le Jardin d’Amour, a French waltz that Lara St. John found in a store in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, a real beaut, or the exquisite strains of the Celtic Wedding Medley. And if you really want to let loose get in line for the Kosher Chicken Dance—yes, it’s that kind of album! And you won’t want to listen to it every day, but when the time comes it will quench a particularly odd thirst that most of us won’t admit to.

As said, musicianship is superb, arrangements excellent. I am disappointed that this was not offered in Super Audio, as Ancalagon has been at the forefront of the audiophile labels; hopefully this is not an indication of policy to come. As is, enjoy it for all it’s worth.

TrackList:  The Ceremony: Frumpet Voluntary; Bridle Chorus; J.S. Bachelor Party; Ave Maria; Canon in D, Mostly; Salut d’ Amour; Shotgun Wedding March. The Party: Celtic Wedding Medley; Kosher Chicken Dance; Le Jardin d’ Amour; Fun der Khupe; O Sole Mio; Napoloni; Por Una Cabeza; End of the Night: 4th Street Drag; My Buddy

—Steven Ritter

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