Adnan SAYGUN (1907-1991) From Anatolia op.25 (1945) [08:47] 12 Preludes on Aksak Rhythms op. 45 (1967) [23:21] Inci’s Book op. 10 (1934) [08:49] 10 Sketches on Aksak Rhythms op. 58 (1976) [19:51] Sonatina op. 15 (1938) [10:07]
rec. 23-24, 27 February 2007, Abravanel Hall, Music Academy
of the West, Santa Barbara, California, USA. DDD NAXOS 8.570746 [71:05]
In 1934 Turkish President Kemal Atatürk, founder of modern Turkey,
specifically took up the question of music, calling in Parliament
for the creation of a new musical style which would draw
upon Turkey’s musical heritage. German and Austrian architects
provided designs for a new Conservatoire in Ankara, to be
directed by Hindemith, and for a new opera house, under Carl
Ebert. If this doesn’t sound very indigenous, a native composer,
Ahmet Adnan Saygun, was commanded to write – and conduct
with the Presidential Orchestra – a new opera to celebrate
a state visit to Ankara by the Shah of Persia.
Whether a new musical style can be created by political decree is
a moot point. In truth we know so little about the “Turkish
Five” who dominated the Turkish musical scene over the next
few decades – Erkin, Rey, Akses, Alnar and Saygun himself – that
it is impossible for an outsider to say what was actually
achieved. An equally moot point might be whether Hindemith,
for all his qualities, was quite the man for this particular
brief. Probably Saygun would have agreed. Certainly, he was
disappointed that a place was not found for Bartók, surely
a more logical choice. In 1936 Saygun left the new Conservatoire
and took a trip through the Turkish countryside, collecting
native folk melodies in the company of the Hungarian master.
Earlier still, from 1928, he had studied in Paris, with Borrel at
the Conservatoire and D’Indy at the Schola Cantorum. Despite
the temporary hiatus in 1936 he received much honour as one
of Turkey’s leading national composers – as well as ethnomusicologist
and writer – and perhaps the best known Turkish musical figure
internationally. In 1958 Stokowski conducted his oratorio “Yunus
Emre” at the United Nations General Assembly Hall in New
Of the pieces here, I was particularly taken with “From Anatolia”.
Despite his admiration for Bartók, Saygun does not particularly
remind us of that master, though he perhaps shares the Hungarian’s
ideals of textural clarity and clear-cut forms. In this suite
he exhibits a more lyrical gift and a considerable sense
of atmosphere. Mindful of his Schola Cantorum period, Roussel
with a Turkish accent might be a fair description.
The early “Inci’s Book” makes a pleasing addition to the world’s stock
of childhood-inspired pieces while the Sonatina makes a bigger
effect than its name or length would suggest. It also encompasses
a fair range of moods and concludes with an impressive visiting
card for the pianist’s virtuoso address.
The “12 Preludes on Aksak Rhythms” ought to be the major offering
here, but it is the one that convinced me least. Saygun’s
post war music, on this showing, achieved a sharp-etched
purity but, while some of the Preludes – usually the faster
ones – are engaging, others seemed rather sterile. Yet the
obvious inference that the composer’s talent dried up is
countered by the still later “10 Sketches on Aksak Rhythms”.
While they cover similar ground, they said rather more to
me. In truth, we know too little about the composer to make
more than tentative judgements.
Zeynep Űçbaşaran is a Turkish pianist who has been resident
in Santa Barbara, California, since 1996. She has made a
number of discs for a small local label, Eroica, all of which
I have reviewed with growing interest. Concentrating on a
fairly circumscribed repertoire so far – Mozart, Schubert
and Liszt in particular – she is a pianist who puts the music
first. On a disc dedicated
to miniatures she included “Inci’s Book” and five of
the “Preludes”. Recorded two years earlier than the present
disc, there are just enough small differences to prove that
the previous performances haven’t been just quietly recycled,
but the main difference in “Inci’s Book” comes from the recordings.
The more wide-ranging dynamics offered by Eroica add a dimension
of boldness to “The Giant Puppet”, for example. Yet this
must be a matter of Naxos’s post-production policy, since
the venue and recording team are the same in both cases.
Taken on its own, the Naxos recording sounds fine, I should
add. The one piece which actually seems to have been reconsidered
by Űçbaşaran is the fourth Prelude which is more
fluid, I would say to its advantage, adding to the attractiveness
of what is in any case the most communicative – to me – of
this group of pieces.
Insofar as I can judge without scores or comparative versions – except
by the same pianist – the performances are excellent. The
colours and pacing are everywhere convincing. In my review
of the earlier CD I see I suggested that Űçbaşaran
might like to give us a monographic Saygun disc, based around
the late (1990) Sonata. Well, here’s the monographic disc,
but instead she chose to go back to Saygun’s earlier works.
Given their attractiveness, I suspect she had her reasons.
Or is there more to come?
Saygun’s cause has also been taken up by CPO (see below for reviews).
Founding Editor Rob Barnett Senior Editor
John Quinn Seen & Heard Editor Emeritus Bill Kenny Editor in Chief
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