Review

Svitlana Nianio

Transilvania Smile (1994)

Shukai • 1994

Svitlana Nianio is very busy and a bit elusive. Her musical career started before the fall of the Iron Curtain in the experimental music scene in Kyiv, among other things, she was a member of the group Cukor Bila Smerť. In the mid-1990s, she launched her solo career, collaborating long-term with musician and instrument maker Oleksandr Yurchenko, who died in 2020, and to whom the Muscat sublabel Shukai recently dedicated a retrospective. Her last album with Yurchenko, »Lisova Kolekciya,« was released on Skire in 2017 and has just been reissued. This is good timing, as Shukai is also making her previously unreleased solo album available with »Transilvania Smile (1994)«. These seven tracks were created during a stay in Germany as part of a collaboration with a Cologne dance troupe, but also stand by themselves. Nianio, whose real last name is Ohrimenko, apparently draws on folkloristic and Christian song traditions on piano and harmonium and combines this with a near-falsetto performance, but gives a decidedly avant-garde touch to her material, similar to the Ukrainian singer Mariana Sadovska or the Belgian duo Lilly Joel in the context of their Hildegard von Bingen adaptations. Transfigured and rigorous, ethereal and yet emotionally charged, sometimes joyful and then again melancholic: Nianio creates many points of contact in these seven pieces with very few means. The result could be called art folk pop, presumably, an album which is wonderfully produced and, in view of the rampant chamber-pop revival, sounds amazingly zeitgeisty considering that it is almost 30 years old.