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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

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Behzad RANJBARAN (b. 1955)
The Persian Trilogy (1991-2000)
1. Seven Passages (2000) [13:39]
2. Seemorgh (1991) [22:07]
(The Mountain; The Moonlight; The Sunrise)
3. The Blood of Seyavash (1994) [42:28]
(The Young Prince and Heir; Seduction by Betrayal; Trial by Fire; Tormented Loyalties; Seeds of Envy; Idyllic Love; Prophecy Fulfilled)
London Symphony Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta
rec. St Luke’s Church, London, Sept 2003. DDD
DELOS DE 3336 [78:21]

 

Behzad Ranjbaran has had mixed fortunes with this CD. On the plus side he has had approaching eighty minutes of his most sumptuous orchestral music professionally recorded in sound of extraordinary refinement and vibrancy. On the negative side the recording came out on Delos when their operation seemed to come to a staggering halt outside the USA.

This is not the end of the accounting although pretty well everything else tells in its favour. The notes which are in English only are very full - perhaps rather small - but we do get every wrinkle of the three stories that form the basis for this Persian orchestral triptych. These tales are drawn from the Iranian national epic, the Shahnameh (or Book of Kings) written by Ferdawsi (c.940-c.1020). Although the language is quite other we can see the partnership of Ranjbaran and the Shahnameh in the same light as Sibelius and the Kalevala and Holbrooke and the Cauldron of Annwn. The Shahnameh includes among its talismanic figure the hero Rostam who some of you may know from the Matthew Arnold poem Sohrab and Rustum.

The outcome of this inspiration is music of shimmering exoticism, luxury and voluptuous indulgence are at play here. I heard many echoes - but then I always do and these do not detract from the distinctive identity of the music. Think in terms of Rimsky’s Antar, Borodin’s Prince Igor, Stravinsky’s Firebird, Griffes’ Pleasure Dome, Liadov’s Baba-Yaga, Balakirev’s Tamara and once or twice the dreamily irresistible indulgence of Silvestrov’s psychedelic Fifth Symphony. The music is not at all hard going and is full of interest and intrigue - engaging at so many levels.

Ranjbaran is Iranian and was born in Tehran in 1955. He attended the Tehran Conservatory at the age of nine to study violin. He moved to the USA in 19784 following graduation. There he attended Indiana University and the Juilliard School where he currently teaches. His works are published by Theodore Presser and he has a am n impressive line-up of musicians who have pioneered his music. These include Gerard Schwarz, Joshua Bell, JoAnne Falletta and Renée Fleming.

The glistening and shimmering orchestration of Seven Passages announces a composer who has learnt much from Rimsky-Korsakov - especially Sadko and Antar- try 8:12 onwards. Ranjbaran makes free with the complete Russian-Orientalist palette gypped up with infusions of deafening quasi-Stravinskian stamping figures (9:01 and the last three minutes of the work) and quaking eruptive climaxes. Other parallels include Szymanowski and Griffes such is the imagination of this music. The music is not in the dissonant vein of some Tjeknavorian (try his first two symphonies!) who might erroneously be thought of as a comparator - until you hear the music. The sense of fantasy-nightmare is strong at 10:03 onwards which seems to describe fearful landscapes. This is not out of place as the story which forms its fons et origo tells of the seven epic encounters endured by Rostam in rescuing his king and countrymen from an alien realm. It was the last of the trilogy to be completed and was premiered by the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra conducted by JoAnn Falletta at Long Beach, CA on 25 March 2000.

The Seemorgh is sometimes shown as Simorgh. The latter was the title Loris Tjeknavorian gave a ballet recorded by Unicorn in the 1970s. The Simorgh is the Iranian phoenix which here serves as a protector of Zaal and Rostam. There is a stunningly thunderous fanfare that proclaims something both regal and awe-inspiring. The mix is very similar to that of the Seven Passages. This work was first performed on 27 March 1993 by JoAnn Falletta and her Long Beach orchestra.

Running to three quarters of an hour the single largest component of the trilogy is The Blood of Seyavash. This is a ballet in seven scenes and seven is clearly a significant number in the Shahnameh mythology. The Young Prince and Heir is explosive and gaudily colourful. Seduction by Betrayal has a sinuous beguiling sway that partly recalls, in more intense colours, Balakirev’s Tamar. There is even a Sheherazade-style violin solo. Trial by Fire is a thunderous display piece which hammers away in punishing salvos with wonderfully gritty brass work and splendid bass response. It is rather like Mossolov’s Iron Foundry but more humane. Tormented Loyalties is a lower-key character piece with a memorably plaintive bassoon solo. Seeds of Envy includes a delicate dancing music with much subtle soloistic work including for harp. This leads naturally into Idyllic Love where again the harp provides exotic silver-points and where the high woodwind touching in the picture with gorgeous bird song (‘high piping Pehlevi’ from Omar Khayyam, perhaps) and exotically seductive waves of string sound. Prophecy Fulfilled is black with ominous brass and Shostakovich style clamour (2:03) and passing echoes of Stravinsky’s Rite

This disc was issued in 2004 - the same year as Albany’s CD of Ranjbaran’s Cello Concerto on TROY648 (see review). That same year also saw the disappearance outside the USA of much of the Delos catalogue which cannot have helped to spread the good news. This disc is in fact easily available on both amazon.co.uk and amazon.com. As I write, amazon.com offer a special deal if you buy both the Albany and Delos discs together.

Due to the generosity of the composer I have been able to audition various other of his works. None of them are as Orientally exotic as the Persian Trilogy but all are tonal, accessible yet by no means bland. I was particularly struck by the Violin Concerto (premiered down the road in Liverpool) by Joshua Bell and the RLPO (9 January 2003). Gerard Schwarz is the conductor there as he is also in the premiere of the voluptuous song cycle with orchestra Songs of Eternity. This was sung at the premiere by Renée Fleming. I trust that we will receive commercial recordings of these works along with the luminous First Symphony.

Do not miss this disc. It is a natural for everyone who appreciates the eternal exotic-legendary strand recorded in sensational sound. While not as hothouse as Szymanowski this is music akin to his writing as well as to that of such masters of gorgeous and gaudy suggestion and mysterious fantasy illusion as Rozsa and Herrmann.

Rob Barnett

Further Information about Ranjbaran

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