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Emil TABAKOV (b. 1947)
Concerto for two Flutes and Orchestra (2000)a [27:08]
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (2003)b [34:23]
Patrick Gallois, Philippe Bernold (flutes)a; Jean-Philippe Collard (piano)b;
Bilkent Symphony Orchestra/Emil Tabakov
rec. Bilkent Concert Hall, Turkey, May-June 2005
NAXOS 8.570073 [61:31]


Dare I say again that Emil Tabakov’s name and music are new to me? So, when I received this new release, and judging by the soloists’ line-up and the size of the pieces recorded, I was quite curious and interested. Incidentally, I am always eager to hear music by composers whom I have never heard of. This is, no doubt, one of the many joys derived from disc reviewing.

Bulgarian-born Emil Tabakov’s present output is apparently quite substantial. The insert notes mention a Requiem, choral music, concertos, instrumental music and several symphonies, all of which have enjoyed successful performances, although little of it, I am afraid, is actually well-known, which makes this release particularly welcome.

Now, the main question is: what of the music? From the above details, the two concertos recorded here are substantial works, at least in terms of duration. The fact that one of them was written at the request of and dedicated to Patrick Gallois - no less! - makes the prospect all the more mouth-watering. The Concerto for two Flutes and Orchestra, completed in 2000, is an ambitious work in two strongly contrasted movements of fairly equal length. The predominantly slow first movement opens dreamily with held notes in the strings, pianissimo, and the music points to a sort of nocturne in arch-form. There is a somewhat more agitated and impassioned second section building-up to a climax before dying away calmly. In total contrast, the second movement opens with a short phrase played by the flutes and accompanied by percussion. This phrase, which I would be tempted to describe as ‘Janissary music’ is repeated throughout the entire movement with little variation, except for a considerable increase of dynamic. The music unfolds as a frantic dance by some swirling dervish punctuated by heavy ostinati and strongly hammered-out repeated notes.

The more recent Concerto for Piano and Orchestra is the result of a most improbable commission. The work was composed at the request of the Rotary Club of Adana in Turkey to mark the anniversary of the Turkish army. The three movements are laid-out along the traditional “fast-slow-faster” pattern. The first movement opens with a fanfare played by the trumpet, which in fact dominates the entire movement, in much the same way as the ‘Janissary music’ heard in the second movement of the Concerto for two Flutes. In spite of the assertion made by the annotator that the opening fanfare is “a possible allusion to the occasion this composition was commissioned to commemorate”, I find that the entire first movement has an indisputable martial air, verging on bombast. The second movement is a dreamy, almost otherworldly meditation of a short motif redolent of plainchant that again predominates throughout. The piano part is almost reduced to that of an orchestral piano. The final movement is a brilliant Toccata that dutifully ends with a restatement of the fanfare from the first movement, to round off the proceedings.

Tabakov’s music relies heavily on ostinati - quite often quickly repeated notes - and short phrases often repeated with slight variations, be they melodic, rhythmical or dynamic. Some may certainly call this “economy of means”; but I rather experience it as too slender material ill-suited to any kind of development, no matter how resourcefully the composer varies it. The overall effect is one of “updated Khachaturian” with less memorable tunes. I wish that I were more positive about it all, because Tabakov obviously has a fine ear for orchestral textures, particularly so in the slow movements. Try the first movement of the Concerto for two Flutes, which is by far the finest music here, and the slow movement of the Piano Concerto. The major problem is that Tabakov’s material is far too limited to justify, let alone allow for development, and – as a result – the pieces tend to outstay their welcome.

These performances by top-rank soloists nicely supported by a very responsive orchestra conducted by the composer are all very fine, and well recorded. That said, this hugely promising release proved a disappointment. On the positive side, I admit that I would want to hear more of Tabakov’s music, were it only to refute or confirm this first impression. Colourful, superbly scored music but too thin in pure musical terms. My suggestion would be to try it out before deciding whether this is for you or not.

Hubert Culot

see also Review by David Blomenberg



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