Fazil SAY (b.1970)
Hezarfen - Concerto for Ney and Orchestra Op. 39 (2011) [25.42]
Burcu Karadag (ney); Aykut Köserli (percussion)
The Orchestra of Nationaltheater Mannheim/Dan Ettinger
rec. live, premiere, 6 March 2012, Rosengarten Mannheim, Germany
Istanbul Symphony (2009) [42.28]
Burcu Karadag (ney); Hakan Güngör (kanun); Aykut Köserli (Turkish percussion)
Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra/Gürer Aykal
NAÏVE V5315 [68.10]
It might be a fun party game for musical friends to ask them ‘How many Turkish composers can you name’. You might start with Ahmed Saygun (1907-1991) many of whose works have been recorded by CPO. It would take some specialist knowledge to move on to Ulvi Erkin (1906-1972) and even more to come up with Necil Akses (1908-1999). These men and others wrote classical orchestral works in a western tradition but with a definite bow and acknowledgement towards rhythms and melodies they had heard in their own countries. You may still be able get ‘Four Orchestral works from Turkey’ on Hungaroton HCD 31455 which is well worth hearing. To my knowledge none of these composers used traditional instruments in their orchestral works.
Fazil Say, now in his early forties, has done just that in his Hezarfen. It is a concerto not only for the Persian flute-like instrument known as the Ney but also including percussion such as the Kudium which often plays with the Ney and Bendir (a large hand drum) and even a waterphone. This is the first concerto for this reed-flute … but who was Hezarfen?
In 1632 he managed, by equipping himself with wings to fly over two miles from the Galata tower and to land safely. His success was so astounding that the Sultan saw fit to banish him to Algeria in exile in case he had ideas above his station. In Say’s concerto the Ney represents Hezarfen. There are four movements in which the percussion feature prominently. This is not ‘western’ music, but with its fantasy-like form, its dancing often syncopated rhythms in uneven time signatures, its driving pulse and melodic ideas which clearly relate to the scales in traditional music of the area, this is music which is, at last, distinctively Turkish.
The movements almost naively tell Hezarfen’s story: 1. Istanbul 1632. If, like me you have experienced this city you will recognize the noisy business of the percussion, and rhythms represented in this scene setting. 2. Galata Tower: the crowds jeer at Hezarfen. 3. The Flight: The composer tells us that this seven and a half minute movement represents the length of time that the flight took. We conclude with Algerian Exile.
This is a unique piece and in this live performance, absolutely convincing in its aims. It’s superbly recorded and performed.
The main work on the CD is the Istanbul Symphony and having heard it you can then see for yourself what energetic and committed performances both works received on the accompanying DVD. The players clearly especially enjoy the powerful rhythmic sections. In the two documentaries the composer and the Ney player Burcu Karadag talk about the Ney and both works in some detail. This is accompanied by fascinating images of Istanbul.
This eclectic Symphony starts and ends with the sea. I am reminded that as you approach the city by boat, as I did, the vast space of colour filled with water causes a shiver up the spine. The opening movement is entitled Nostalgia but in a sense the whole work is one big nostalgia trip as the composer takes us on a journey around old Istanbul. Although Say is only in his early forties, it is not only he says, the city of his childhood but the historic city which is evoked. The second movement Religious order is full of fast, bold, repetitive chant-like figures with the percussion, a major part of the ritual, strongly predominant. It’s very exciting.
Movement 3 is The Blue Mosque. This is an architectural highlight of the city and the composer admits ‘this slow movement is a concerto for the Ney”. It is atmospheric and conjures up my own, decade-old memory very believably. Movement 4 is a Scherzo featuring the higher woodwind “Merrily clad young ladies aboard the ferry to the Princes’ Island”. The island is over an hour from the mainland and is enjoyed by folks of all creeds who “Live happily together” (Say). In his wonderful book Constantinople of 1877, Edmondo de Amicus (Hesperus Classics) comments that the various peoples “are, in looks and often in clothes, difficult to distinguish apart” (page 110). It’s still mostly the same - very cosmopolitan. That’s why the city is almost entirely so tolerant but also so individual as the music illustrates.
Movement 5 ‘About the travellers to Anatolia departing from the Haydar Pasha train station’ is a rather naïve piece of gentle train music in 7/8 time, in which Say is thinking of the journeys made to all parts of the middle East from this central station. 6. ‘Oriental Night’ is a slow evocative moment, which begins and ends with a lovely improvised solo from the ‘kanun’ a sort of Arabian zither here played marvellously. The middle section is more rhythmical and increases in speed until it becomes quite frenetic. The 7th movement Final represents the modern day city and sums up some of the earlier ideas including some beautiful sequential melodic writing heard in the fifth movement.
This symphony does not just make a general bow to Turkish orchestral musical culture but is a proper Turkish Symphony and proud of it. The gap between ‘art-music’ and the modern classical world is bridged colourfully, successfully and exotically, but O, how I wish it could be heard live in the UK. Faint hope.
This rather bulky disc comes with succinct but clear booklet notes on the music by the composer himself. There are also biographical notes, drawings and photographs of the performers. Incidentally - just on the DVD - the enthusiastic audience clap between movements and the conductor briefly addresses the audience just before the symphony’s sixth movement. Scandalous!

Gary Higginson

A proper Turkish Symphony and proud of it. How I wish it could be heard live in the UK.

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