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Euro-Ottomania: 19th Century European and Ottoman Orchestral Music
Luigi ARDITI (1822-1903) Inno Turco (1867) [8:01]
Callisto GUATELLI (1818-1900) Aria nazionale e Canti popolari, Orientale, antichi e moderni (c.1856-7) [10:13]1
August Ritter von ADELBURG (1830-1873) Aux bords du Bosphore (c.1858-9) [41:03]
Bartolomeo PISANI (1811-1876) Une larme sur la tombe du Sultan Abdul-Medjid (1861) [10:09]2
Angelo MARIANI (1821-1873) Hymne Nationale (c.1848-9) [6:20]
Dagmar Williams (soprano); Štĕpánka Pýchová (alto); Petr Klíma (tenor); Mirsolav Vácha (bass); Jiří Hurník (violin); Miloš Jahoda (cello); Pavel Ĉernŷ (organ); Jaroslav Brych (chorus master); Jens Franke (associate conductor); Prague Symphony Orchestra; Prague Symphony Chamber Orchestra; Prague Philharmonic Choir/Emre Aracı
rec. August 2003 1, March 2005 2, Dvořák Hall, Rudolfinum, Prague
No texts or translations.
Experience Classicsonline

Not long ago – in another place and wearing a different hat – I was writing a review (full of praise) of an anthology of poems about Istanbul, edited by Ateş Orga (Istanbul: A Collection of the Poetry of Place, Eland Books, 2007, ISBN 978 0 955010 59 0; £5.99). Now here is a musical anthology in the production of which Ateş Orga has clearly been one of the moving spirits. The ‘Album Concept’ is credited to Orga and the Turkish musicologist and composer Emre Aracı, who also conducts these performances. Ateş Orga was the producer of the CD; he revised some of the arrangements; he is co-author (with Aracı) of the exemplary booklet notes (to which I am heavily indebted here). And, like the book, the disc is a well-nigh unqualified delight.

Orientalism – the West’s fascination with the East (or, at any rate, with its idea of the East) – has been much studied and written about in recent years, not least after Edward Said’s polemical and controversial volume Orientalism of 1978 and his later Culture & Imperialism (1993). The debate which Said provoked continues – a fairly recent contribution was Robert Irwin’s For Lust of Knowing: The Orientalists and Their Enemies (2006). Alongside that debate there have been many excellent scholarly works, such as John Sweetman’s The Oriental Obsession: Islamic Inspiration in British and American Art and Architecture (1987), tracing the western use of eastern models in the various arts.

What has been rather less studied is the East’s fascination with the West, artistically speaking. I readily confess that before this present CD came my way, I had no idea that quite so much western music had been written and played in Istanbul in the middle years of the nineteenth century, that so many European composers had lived and worked there. This anthology, to quote the booklet, "mirrors that time in the 19th century when the Ottoman zeal for European music was in the ascendant; when Europeans reciprocated the compliment; when Italians ran the sultan’s military bands and court orchestras; when Liszt played at the imperial residence by the Bosphorus (1847); when importing pianos became serious business…".

The composers represented on this disc are far from being ‘big’ names; all of the works here are receiving their first ever recordings. But for all the unfamiliarity of the material, this is not just an exercise in cultural archaeology; the music is actually worth hearing, its interest admittedly increased by an awareness of the circumstances of its production.

Luigi Arditi is a name that may perhaps be familiar to those with an interest in the musical history of England. Born in northern Italy, he worked in London between 1858 and 1869, at Her Majesty’s Theatre and at Covent Garden, where he conducted early performances of operas by Verdi, Wagner and others. But before his years in London, Arditi was Director of the Naum Theatre in Istanbul. His piece – also variously known as Hymne, as Turkish Ode and as Oriental Cantata – was first performed in the Imperial Palace in Istanbul in May of 1857. When the Sultan Abdülaziz paid a state visit to London in 1867, the piece was revived (with revisions and additions) for a performance at Crystal Palace, a performance which employed a choir of 1,600, orchestra and organ, and was conducted by the composer. Somewhat smaller choral forces are used here, naturally enough, but the grandeur of the music survives; this is a pleasant example of the public, ceremonial music of the day, with enough ‘Turkish’ touches, in phrase and mode, to give it some individuality.

Another composer from northern Italy, Callisto Guatelli, first came to Istanbul in 1846; he initially worked as choirmaster and stage director of the Naum Theatre. In 1856 he was appointed Director of the Musique Impériale Ottomane, a position in which he succeeded one Guiseppe Donizetti, elder brother of Gaetano. He wrote two volumes of ‘westernised’ versions of Turkish melodies, for piano. Three of these are played here, in orchestral arrangements by Emre Aracı (revised by Orga). They have real charm. The third, ‘Şarki’, is of particular interest, being an arrangement of a song by Sultan Selim III (1761-1808), who had a great interest – and proficiency – in music. He created makams, or melodic types, of his own and performed on the ney and tambour. Some of his compositions are still regularly played in modern Turkey. A remarkable man, he was a poet, an energetic patron of the arts and a member of the Mevlevi order of dervishes. ‘Şarki’ is a delightful miniature (three and a quarter minutes long), which in this arrangement retains a good deal of Turkish musical colouring. It is one of the highlights of the disc.

August Ritter von Adelburg was actually born in Istanbul, where his father was a diplomat. He is pithily described here as "a violinist-composer-painter-Hungarian sympathiser of Balkan-Mediterranean stock". He spent his early years in Istanbul, before studying music in Vienna. He made a return visit to Istanbul in 1858, playing the violin before Sultan Abülmecid at the Dolmabahçe Palace. His five-part ‘Symphonie-Fantastique’, Aux bords du Bosphore, carries a dedication to Abülmecid. The work’s governing idiom is essentially that of mid-nineteenth-century romanticism, but Adelburg’s interest in middle-eastern musics also leaves its mark. The second movement – ‘Chanson Turque’ – is appropriately and intriguingly modal; the fourth – ‘Grande Marche du Médjidí’ – has a more obviously westernised ‘Turkish’ quality, and belongs in the tradition of, say, Johann Michael Haydn’s ‘Marcia Turchese’ or, as the booklet notes here suggest, Ferdiand Ries’s Sixth Symphony. The closing movement – ‘Lever de la lune et chant nocturne sur le Bosphore’ has little about it that is very obviously Turkish, but is, in any case, a fine orchestral nocturne.

The last two pieces on the programme take us back to the work of expatriate Italians. Bartolomeo Pisani took over from Guatelli as Director of the Musique Impériale Ottomane. His Funeral March on the death of Sultan Abülmecid is thoroughly competent, without ever really distinguishing itself from many a similar piece – a careful re-presentation of the high commonplaces of the genre. Angelo Mariani (who had a significant place in the life of Verdi) came to Istanbul after the 1848 Italian uprising against the Austrians and became director of the Naum Theatre. The Hymne National, in C major, was written soon after his arrival and was premiered before Abülmecid. Its music belongs firmly in the Italian sacred tradition; its text (unfortunately the CD comes without sung texts or translations thereof) belongs – equally firmly – in the Ottoman tradition of poems in praise of the monarch. As such it is, very strikingly, a work to which the compound adjective ‘Euro-Ottoman’ might very properly be applied. It doesn’t underplay its hand and there is an edge of pomposity which was perhaps inseparable from its time, place and purpose, but there are certainly some genuinely impressive moments too.

While it seems unlikely that any of these pieces will establish themselves in the orchestral canon, they are all, in varying degrees well worth hearing. And, as an aural picture of a fascinating musico-historical phenomenon this CD can be thoroughly recommended. The performances are accomplished - just occasionally one might have wished for slightly more dash and brilliance - and the recorded sound is entirely adequate.

Glyn Pursglove


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