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Ulvi Cemal ERKIN (1906-1972)
Köçekçe – Dance Rhapsody for Orchestra (1943) [9:20]
Violin Concerto (1946-47) [30:50]
Symphony No. 2 (1948-58) [27:49]
James Buswell (violin)
Istanbul State Symphony Orchestra/Theodore Kuchar
rec. 29-30 November 2014, Fulya Cultural Centre, Istanbul, Turkey
NAXOS 8.572831 [67:59]

Ulvi Cemal Erkin was one of the ‘Turkish Five’, a group of composers who fused their native folk music with a Western symphonic style. The others were Cemal Reşit Rey (1904–1985), Hasan Ferdi Alnar (1906–1978), Ahmed Adnan Saygun (1907–1991) and Necil Kazım Akses (1908–1999). Saygun is the only one of the group I am familiar with and I recently reviewed a disc featuring his works for violin and piano entitled ‘Views from Ararat’ from Farao Classics (review). I’ve previously come across Erkin’s Köçekçe – Dance Rhapsody, probably his most popular work, on an excellent Onyx recording conducted by Sacha Goetzel (review) but other than that, for me he’s an unknown quantity. Born in the last years of the Ottoman Empire, Erkin saw the birth of the Turkish Republic, established by Kemal Ataturk. Following a period of study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris in his early twenties, he returned to Turkey, dividing his time between teaching and composing.

Köçekçe – Dance Rhapsody for Orchestra (1943) is brilliantly constructed and imaginatively orchestrated. As a feature of Ottoman Empire culture, the köçek was a male dancer employed as an entertainer at gatherings. The short work presents Turkish melodies, together with their harmonies and rhythms, in a Western idiom. Erkin adds traditional percussion instruments to the orchestral cauldron. Tuneful and colourful, it’s a fitting opening to the disc, and Kuchar’s reading has plenty of vitality and panache.

With the Violin Concerto you’re in for a treat – the work is an absolute delight. Tuneful and beguiling it makes for a pleasurable listening experience. It was composed 1946-7, following the Piano Concerto, Köçekçe and the First Symphony. Its delayed premiere took place in 1949 with Lico Amar as soloist and Erkin himself at the helm. Scored in three movements and harmonically tonal, the opening movement, the lengthiest at 15 minutes, has an imposing opening. There’s plenty of scope for the soloist to shine, not least in the impressive cadenza sitting midway. The slow movement consists of a lyrical outpouring over a persistent tread. James Buswell really savours the moment with his warm rich tone caressing the music. The finale is the most Turkish-sounding movement. Again Buswell steps up to the mark with crisply articulated double-stops set against Kuchar’s rhythmically propulsive accompaniment. It’s a winning performance of compelling potency.

Hot on the heels of the Violin Concerto came the Second Symphony, begun a year later in 1948, but not fully orchestrated until 1958, when it was premiered in Munich under Karl Öhring. Its orientation is tonal, and it begins with a resolute and trenchant opening movement. The Adagio is a theme and eight variations in a passacaglia mould. Its monotonous tread is relentless, and Kuchar builds the climax with gripping intensity. Percussive knocking, four minutes in, adds to the implacable vein of the music. In the finale we come full circle to the Köçekçe. Erkin peppers the score with dance melodies he had harvested from Anatolia, and Kuchar responds to the high octane rhetoric with élan.

The Istanbul State Symphony Orchestra and Theodore Kuchar offer well-managed and convincing interpretations. The Fulya Cultural Centre, Istanbul provides an ideal acoustic to showcase the orchestral detail of these alluring scores.

Stephen Greenbank
Previous reviews: Rob Barnett ~ Michael Wilkinson



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