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Ahmet 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]
Zeynep Űçbaşaran (piano)
rec. 23-24, 27 February 2007, Abravanel Hall, Music Academy of the West, Santa Barbara, California, USA. DDD
NAXOS 8.570746 [71:05]
Experience Classicsonline


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 York.
 
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).
 
Christopher Howell
 
See other reviews of Sayguns music
Complete String Quartets
Cello Concerto
Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2
Symphony No. 4
Symphonies Nos. 3 and 5



 


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