Azerbaijani Piano Concertos
Fikret AMIROV (1922-1984) with Elmira NAZIROVA (b. 1928)
Piano Concerto after Arabian Themes (1957) [24:56]
Vasif ADIGEZALOV (1935-2006)
Piano Concerto no.4 (1994)* [28:08]
Tofig GULIYEV (1917-2000)
Gaytagi - Dance, for piano and orchestra (1958/1980) [3:41]
Farhad BADALBEYLI (b.1947)
The Sea, for piano and orchestra (1977) [7:54]
Shusha, for soprano and orchestra (2003) [4:24]
Farhad Badalbeyli (piano)
* Murad Adigezalzade (piano)
Joan Rodgers (soprano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitry Yablonsky
rec. Cadogan Hall, London, 9-12 July 2010. DDD
NAXOS 8.572666 [68:52]

Exposure to music from Azerbaijan in western Europe often comes these days through so-called 'world' or 'fusion' recordings performed by photogenic natives, often émigrés, such as jazz pianist Aziz Mustafa Zadeh. The occasional recording of 'mugam' music, the folk-classical tradition of Azerbaijan, is also available, but the kind of Europe-facing art music featured here, initiated by Uzeyir Hajibeyov (1885-1948) a century ago and shaped by Soviet influence, is still all too rare on disc and concert platform alike. Naxos have made a start with orchestral music from Fikret Amirov (review) and Kara Karayev (review), but now would be a good time to ramp up their low-key 'Azerbaijani Composers' series.

Surprisingly perhaps, Fikret Amirov's Piano Concerto is strongly redolent, especially in the first movement, of Manuel de Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain - such was the influence of Arab culture right across southern Europe. Whilst Falla's Generalife movement recalls the famous Alhambra court, Amirov's work is based on Arabian folk-tunes interwoven with his native music in a traditional European format. The track-listing shows Elmira Nazirova - muse of and immortalised by Shostakovich in his Tenth Symphony - as co-composer of the Concerto, whereas the notes say Amirov wrote it "in collaboration with" her.

At any rate, where Amirov's populist Concerto is good, Adigezalov's Fourth is profound and spectacular, reminiscent, at least in spirit, of Khachaturian's Concerto, though that was written 60 years earlier. Neither Amirov's nor Adigezalov's Concerto is especially alien-sounding: essentially lyrical, picturesquely orchestrated with rich harmonies and spiky rhythms, they both have an early-to-mid-20th century feel to them, European with the added frisson of byways passing through exotic scales.

Guliyev’s Gaytagi is a lot of fun, bristling with jauntiness and excitement - he can be forgiven for founding Azerbaijan's first state 'pops' orchestra and its first jazz orchestra! Pianist Farhad Badalbeyli's own The Sea is also light, but in a different way: altogether more lush, small-R romantic and filmic - along the lines of Richard Addinsell's Warsaw Concerto indeed, though making more use of clichés. His Shusha, a vocalise for soprano and orchestra, is similarly undemanding, and arguably out of place on this disc, but both works are pleasant to listen to and well performed.

Badalbeyli has been an important figure in Azerbaijani musical life for three decades. Even if his compositions here are the weakest part of the CD, his piano technique is very impressive, although he is possibly outshone by Murad Adigezalzade, who gives a heroic account of Adigezalov's Fourth Concerto. Naxos must now tempt Adigezalzade - or Badalbeyli - to record the other three, and also ask Yablonsky and the RPO to get on with Adigezalov's four symphonies.

Incidentally, the Azeri language usually undergoes a minor amount of transliteration into European languages. Thus Tofig Guliyev's name is written and sometimes met as Tofiq Quliyev in Azer, though the pronunciation is barely affected. Adigezalov is occasionally seen as the equally valid Adigozalov, Adygozalov or even - in New Grove - Adygözälov.

Engineers and producer also deserve a mention here: sound and general technical quality is excellent. The CD booklet is slim but informative.

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Essentially lyrical, picturesquely orchestrated with rich harmonies and spiky rhythms.