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Kara KARAYEV (1918-1982)
The Seven Beauties - Ballet Suite (1953) [30:35]
The Path of Thunder - Ballet Suite No.2 (1958) [38:47]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitri Yablonsky
rec. Blackheath Concert Halls, Blackheath, London, UK, 29-30 September 2012
NAXOS 8.573122 [69:22]

This disc is a prime example of the splendid work that Naxos has done over the past twenty-plus years in giving listeners the opportunity to hear little known music, excellently played. Karayev, who hailed from Azerbaijan was one of Shostakovich’s earliest pupils but has clearly a strong voice of his own. These two contrasting works in splendid performances illustrate Karayev’s considerable ability and my only feeling whilst listening was surprise that he was not better known.

The Seven Beauties is based on a poem by Persian poet Nizami in 1197 concerning a king who was married to seven beautiful women, each living with her own entourage. These wives come from various countries, hence Indian Beauty, Byzantine Beauty and so on. There is an influence of Shostakovich but one of Karayev’s skills is to make each of the beauties individual whilst being successful at composing a cohesive work. The disc starts with a three-movement suite where I particularly enjoyed The Dance of the Clowns, before the seven portraits of the wives. Each movement has individual qualities but the composer’s skill is to create a cohesive quality to the ballet.

The Path of Thunder is based on the novel of the same name by South African writer Peter Abrahams. It is set in 1948 when the National Party brought in apartheid and tells the doomed romance of two people from different races. The ballet has an overriding atmosphere of doom right from the start with the General Dance. The Dance of the Black Community depicts the poor situation of Lenny, the hero’s background effectively suggested with percussive beats. There is some relief with Night in Stillveld with telling use of the strings to evoke a nocturnal atmosphere. The most substantial movement is Scene and Duet with its portrayal of early morning and the two doomed lovers. It is not groundbreaking but makes affecting and poignant use of the orchestra, particularly the violins and cellos. The appropriately titled Lullaby follows the stormy ending of the previous movement and acts as a calm interlude before the turbulent and tragic finale. The death of the lovers is most dramatic and is built up ominously with an inevitability that is very imposing as it comes to the fateful finale.

This disc of two impressive ballets is well worth its modest price and can be considered a great success for the splendid RPO and Dmitri Yablonsky was also born in Azerbaijan and clearly has a strong empathy for the music. The notes in the booklet are first rate and an example to others. The orchestra and recording are splendid. Naxos continues to produce lesser-known music in quality performances.

David R Dunsmore

Previous review: Steve Arloff