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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett



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Uzeyir HAJIBEYOV (1885-1948)
The Operas:-
Leyli and Majnun (1908)

Music and Libretto by Uzeyir and Jeyhun Hajibeyov
Mugham Opera in five acts
Based on the poem ‘Leyli and Majnun’ by Fuzuli (1480-1562)
Leyli - Zeynad Khanlarova
Majnun - Arif Babayev
Majnun's father - Husnu Gubadov
Majnun's mother - Gulkhar Shirinova
Leyli's father - Gafar Aliyev
Leyli's mother - Gulkhar Hasanova
Ibn-Salam - Rafig Aliyev
Novfel - Shahlar Guliyev
Zeyd - Kamil Huseynov
choirmaster - Nijat Malikov
Tar - Bahram Mansurov
Orchestra and Choir of the Azerbaijan State Opera and Ballet Theatre/Kazim Aliverdibeyov
Act 1 [32.58]; Act 2 [30.29]; Act 3 [13.41]; Act 4 [26.48]; Act 5 sc. 1 and sc. 2 [16.14; 10.10]
AICD 1301 - AICD 1302
O Olmasin, Bu Olsun (If Not This One, That One) (1911)

Radio Play [60.09]
Music and Libretto by Uzeyir and Jeyhun Hajibeyov
Gulnaz - Sona Aslanova
Sarvar - Kamal Karimov
Mashadi Ibad - Mirzaagha Aliyev
Rustam bey - Mammadtaghi Baghirov
Azerbaijan Radio Choir and Orchestra/A. Hasanov
AICD 1303
Arshin Mal Alan (The Cloth Peddler) (1913)

Musical Comedy in four acts
Music and Libretto by Uzeyir and Jeyhun Hajibeyov
Edited and Arranged by Niyazi (1912-1984)
Asgar - Rashid Behbudov
Gulchohra - Fidan Gasimova
Sultan bey - Ali Hagverdiyev
Jahan - Shafiga Gasimova
Suleyman - Mursal Badirov
Asya - Khuraman Gasimova
Vali - Husein Huseinov
Telli - Nazakat Mammadova
Azerbaijan State Symphony Orchestra/Niyazi
In 21 and 23 tracks
AICD 1304 - AICD 1305
Koroghlu (The Blind Man's Son) (1937)

Opera in five acts
Libretto by Habib Ismayilov; Poetic text by Mammad Said Ordubadi
Koroghlu - Lutfiyar Imanov
Nigar - Firangiz Ahmadova
Ali - M. Badirov
Hasan Khan - A Bunyad-zade
Ibrahim Khan - D Gafarov
Hamza bey / Nadir F Mehdiyev
Vali - K Mehdiyev
Ehsan Pasha - M Topchiyev
Polad - I Mammadov
Eyvaz - Y Rezayev
Clown - K Mammadov
Singer - R Jabbarova
Orchestra and Choir of the Azerbaijan State Opera and Ballet Theatre/Niyazi
Overture: [3.32]; Act 1 [17.54+11.08]; Act 2 [14.27+17.56]; Act 3 [7.27+19.45]; Act 4 [34.22]; Act 5 [16.59]
AICD 1306 - AICD 1307
Stereo AAD - CD set reviewed here
Editor and Notes: Betty Blair
Sound Recordings transfer by Tape Specialty, N Hollywood
Transferred from vinyl LP recordings made by Melodiya in the 1970s and 1980s.
The seven CDs are available separately or in a single card slipcase.
AZERBAIJAN INTERNATIONAL AICD 1301- 1307 [7CDs: 63.27+66.53; 60.09; 65.24+65.25; 71.06+72.24]


It is the retreat of those bemused by the flood of music from almost every country to dismiss works as ‘local’, ‘parochial, ‘primitive’, ‘insular’ or the old lie (often told against Vaughan Williams’ music before Previn, Slatkin and Haitink) that ‘this is music that simply doesn’t travel!’ It is comforting for those who pretend to omniscience to clear the field in this way and concentrate on the known - the reassuring, the multiply recorded, the already documented.

Azerbaijan was one of the Soviet Socialist Republics before Perestroika simultaneously liberated and cast adrift. During its time under Soviet suzerainty its composers attended Russian conservatoires and the state recording company Melodiya did some recordings of local classical talent. The Melodiya legacy is largely an analogue one - in LPs and 78s. Its tenure on the catalogue is fragile.

This set was issued in 2001 and was produced courtesy of Azerbaijan International and Statoil of Norway. I was disappointed that the dates and locations of the original recording sessions were not given. It would have been good, from a discographical point of view, to have had the original Melodiya set numbers for each opera.

Uzeyir Hajibeyov lived in lifelong fear knowing that his brother Jeyhun (1891-1962), living in Paris, was writing against communism. When the Soviets took Azerbaijan, Uzeyir was on the list of people who were to be liquidated. His life was spared though he was dismissed from the conservatory. Gliere (1875-1956) was imported to Baku and there wrote his opera Shakh-Senem in Baku in 1934. However Hajibeyov's style rose triumphant, echoed to varying degrees in the work of Gara Garayev (1918-1982), Fikrat Amirov (1922-1984), and Tofig Guliyev (1917-2000). During the Stalinist 1930s Hajibeyov was again on the hit-list. It was 1937 and there was to be a celebration of Azerbaijani art in Moscow. Hajibeyov had just completed his opera Koroghlu (1932-1937). Stalin had somehow heard Hajibeyov’s opera Arshin Mal Alan which he liked very much. Koroghlu was accordingly chosen to go to Moscow and Hajibeyov enjoyed considerable éclat being made Soviet People's Artist as well as receiving The Lenin Order; the highest Soviet honour for a musician. He laid out the values of Azerbaijani music in the book, "The Principles of Azerbaijan Folk Music", 1945. Those principles had no place for atonality nor will you find any here.

Leyli and Majnun is surprisingly like Rossini blended with the Polovtsian music from Borodin’s Prince Igor. The music proceeds in a series of statuesque tableaux with the singers sounding as if the style is ‘stand and deliver’. The work has plenty of vitality and bounce not least in the nationalist choruses. The mood is often set by a swaying Mid-Eastern movement. Local colour is provided by a balalaika sounding like the Azerbaijani tar and by muezzin-like calls. In Act 4 (tr.3) there is a striking tabla-like drumbeat. An ululating female voice can be heard at the end of scene 1 of Act V rather like similar effects in Peggy Glanville-Hicks’ cycle Letters from Morocco. Act IV is stormy taking a leaf from Verdi’s Macbeth. Technical defects, which are few, include some passing distortion on the choral side (tr. 2 25.52).

O Olmasin, Bu Olsun is very forwardly recorded for radio in 1953. It sounds just a little wheezy with dated but gripping sound. Rather a pity that the work is presented in a single massive track. This is a light buffo piece in which an old man’s lechery is frustrated. It is more music-hall than opera house. Parallels in English music might be The Arcadians or Tantivy Towers. There is some sparing use of the tar at 47.02. Other local colour comes in the form of a shindig of street pipes and, towards the end of the work, rhythmic clapping. There are spoken Azeri links between the musical setpieces. It sounds like knockabout stuff with more romantic moments such as the serenade at 19.11.

Arshin Mal Alan was and is a well-loved work in Azerbaijan. The last opera presented in Baku before the Bolsheviks took the city in 1920, it is a lively piece interspersed with spoken tracks. The music can be expressive in a western way (tr.9) and there are many fine songs here. Tracks 11 and 13 are lyrical show-stoppers sung by Nazakat Ammamdora. The glistening Rimskian instrumental tapestry has richness [15] as well as plunging rhythmic life [21]. In the CD5 at tr. 8 Hajibeyov shows imaginative reach where he allows the touching power of the spoken word to be contrasted with the high violins in Pelléas-like writing. Another impressive example is the marmoreal song for Golchohra at tr.14 with its gong-stroke underpinning. Gulchohra also has a touching serenade at tr.11 rising to a passionate trio for her with Asya and Telli. At tr.15 Asgar sings with sly lyricism. There are several purely orchestral interludes of which the wild one at tr. 19 is well worth sampling. From time to time tabla-like drums are used. The finale vanquishes all doubts: high on pathos and sentiment. This makes a well-weighed Hollywood style sign-off.

Koroghlu is reckoned to be the pinnacle of Hajibeyov’s operatic output. Its triumph is in the meeting of the mid-eastern slip and slide of phrasing with a glaring Tchaikovskian lyricism. The tar also puts in an appearance from time to time. There is fervent nationalist choral writing and a Mussorgskian air of freedom, independence and resolute defiance; not just conviction but ferocity. Think in terms of the choral singing in Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmilla and A Life for the Tsar. The first part of Act II is louringly Beethovenian - perhaps resembling Tanayev (tr.4). Tr.6 Act III is titled At Chanlibel. This uses ragged grand fanfares and the creates a sense of luxurious palanquins amid the skirl and sway. Tr.1 of CD7 has the shouts of the chorus and the stentor of Koroghlu himself sung with blazing presence by Lutfiyar Imanov. Tr.2 Act IV starts with a decidedly orchestral twang. Strangely the song at the start of Act IV sounds like the ostinato from the finale of the Sibelius Violin Concerto. Act V is sinister and apocalyptic. I noticed the merest hint of shredding distortion on the choral singing. When the gloom gives way to celebration shrill woodwind careen up and down the orchestral canvas like the Auvergnat pipe and tabor in the Canteloube songs but wilder … irrepressible. The piece ends in blazing temples of choral tone. This is sturdy historic costume drama. If you like Madetoja’s Pohjalaisa or the later operas of Smetana you will enjoy Koroghlu although its melodic invention is second to Arshin Mal Alan.

The very full notes are in both English and Azeri. Oddly enough there was no sign of Azeri translations in the six-CD Azerbaijani Classical Music album also reviewed on this site. Plot synopses are given but no libretto. These can be found in both English and Azeri Latin on

Rob Barnett



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