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Eroica recordings

Zeynep Ucbasaran (piano)

Sonatas: K1 in D minor [02:07], K9 in D minor [03:49], K11 in C minor [02:59], K146 in G [02:40]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

7 Bagatelles op.33 (1802) [20:19]
Ahmet Adnan SAYGUN (1907-1991)

Inci’s Book op.10 (1934) [08:48], 12 Preludes on Aksak Rhythms op.45 (1967): nos. 1 [01:56], 4 [02:20], 7 [02:38], 10 [02:21], 11 [00:55]
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990)

Touches (Chorale, 8 Variations, Coda) (1980) [08:45]
Robert MUCZYNSKI (b.1929)

6 Preludes op.6 (1953-4) [06:59]
Zeynep Ucbasaran (piano)
Recorded January 24th-26th 2005 at the Abravanel Hall, Music Academy of the West, Santa Barbara, California
EROICA JDT3223 [66:47]

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liner notes at

Throughout the accompanying documentation the pianist’s name appears as ZEYNEP Ucbasaran, which I take to mean that she wishes to be known, when not referred to by her name in full, as just Zeynep – which is certainly easier to remember! Accordingly, I shall do so, while offering my apologies for the undue familiarity if this is not what was intended.

I have already reviewed three discs by Zeynep, a Turkish pianist who studied in Budapest, Freiburg and Los Angeles and has been living at Santa Barbara, California, since 1996, and have much appreciated her unselfed, very musical playing. So far she has concentrated on larger-scale works, with two CDs dedicated to Liszt – including the Sonata – and one to Schubert, with the Wanderer Fantasy as its centrepiece. Now she presents a series of very brief pieces, showing a completely different side of her musicianship.

In Scarlatti she seems to take her pleasures rather seriously, with three minor-key works and the middle two in slow tempi – a rather different aspect of Scarlatti from that chosen by most pianists. However, in the better-known K.146 I do feel that she is a little sober compared with Craig Sheppard, who seems to be delighting rather more in his own legerdemain. What a reflection on today’s recording world, by the way, that we are able to compare these two pianists by courtesy of tiny companies which appear to exist solely for the purpose of promoting their art – details of the Sheppard disc are contained in my review.

I have no reservations at all about the Beethoven – the playing offers elegance, boisterousness and gravity as required, together with a scrupulous observance of every marking in the score. In some ways the Bagatelles are harder to get right than the Sonatas, where a wider interpretative range is possible. Here, if one thing jars the whole effect is lost, and nothing jarred at all for me.

Zeynep’s notes, which are as unobtrusively to the point as her playing, tell us that Saygun was "the most prominent member of the group that came to be called the Turkish Five". Quite frankly, I think this is an area of Western music which remains virtually unknown outside Turkey, and if Zeynep wishes to hold the torch for her countrymen, I for one am willing to listen. "Inci’s Book" seems to me to be a distinguished addition to the repertoire of pieces illustrating the children’s world, somewhere between Bartók (with whom Saygun toured Anatolia collecting folk songs) and Villa-Lobos. The same manner seems to have dried out by the time of the Preludes on Aksak Rhythms, yet the example of mid-20th Century Turkish art given on the booklet cover, by Halil Dikmen (and how many of us outside Turkey know anything about Turkish painting either?), with its sad, lonely reminiscences of the post-Impressionist world of Chaim Soutine, possibly provides a key to its understanding. In any case, if Zeynep is convinced that Saygun continued to mature with the years, perhaps she will give us a monographic disc based around the late Sonata (1990)?

Certainly, the pared-down writing of late Saygun is suggestive of substance in a way Bernstein’s mindless doodlings are not. I may be a hopeless case, but I have yet to hear any evidence that Bernstein wrote anything worth hearing except for "West Side Story". Still, as there are lots of things by him that I don’t know, I always go to a new piece hoping to be proved wrong. This one was new to me and left me feeling as before. As far as I can tell without a score or a comparative version, its failure to impress is in no way due to any failure by Zeynep to argue the case.

Seven minutes of music are hardly sufficient to assess Zeynep’s claim that Muczynski is "one of the most distinguished of contemporary American composers"; again, the music of this composer of Polish-Slovak descent doesn’t seem to have crossed the Atlantic yet. Certainly, the Preludes here are resourceful, varied and generally communicative – the sort of music to be seized on gratefully by a pianist who wants something that sounds genuinely contemporary without requiring him or her to pluck the strings or bang on the lid. Since he has written three Sonatas (1957, 1966 and 1974), maybe in this case, too, Zeynep might care to take her evident admiration for Muczynski’s music a stage further in the future?

The mixed programme will probably make this a disc mainly for those who have been following Zeynep’s career – no bad thing to do – but others will find a very fine performance of the Beethoven Bagatelles and some interesting excursions into contemporary byways.

Christopher Howell

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