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Ulvi Cemal ERKİN (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. Fulya Cultural Centre, Istanbul, Turkey, 29-30 November 2014. DDD
NAXOS 8.572831 [67:59]

Who were the Turkish 'five'? Fortunately Aydın Büke tells us in his essential liner-note. They are the composers Cemal Reşit Rey (1904–1985), Hasan Ferdi Alnar (1906–1978), Ulvi Cemal Erkin (1906–1972), Ahmed Adnan Saygun (1907–1991) and Necil Kazım Akses (1908–1999). We have heard quite a lot of Saygun as a search of this site will demonstrate courtesy of CPO; the others hardly at all. One wonders what other Turkish masters lie outside this convenient echo of the nineteenth century Russian 'kouchka'.

The 1943 Köçekçe is a highly spiced piece of nationalistic brilliance and is Erkin's most performed work. You can think broadly in terms of Enescu's Rumanian Rhapsodies. I can imagine this being taken up by a Turkish conductor with whom London audiences have been becoming familiar these last few years: Sasha Goetzel with his Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic.

Erkin was a student of Nadia Boulanger in Paris (1925–30). His presence there was attributable to the modernising element that was in the ascendant as the Republic of Turkey was formed by Kemal Ataturk in the wake of the Great War. He returned to Turkey in 1930 to work as a teacher of piano and harmony at the Musiki Muallim Mektebi in Ankara. Major works followed, including a Piano Concerto and a First Symphony. The next was the Violin Concerto which is a bright spark of a thing. It is easily accessible and without obviously nationalistic aspects except in the skirl and janissary jingle of the finale. Its ideas are catchy - a hinterland between Barber and Walton but a degree cooler than both.

James Buswell, the soloist here, will be remembered first for his RVW Concerto Accademico with Previn in the 1960s (review) but there have been some recentish tasty outings for him on Naxos: Piston, Barber and Lees. Buswell revels in this romantic-athletic music and there is gripping shared attack between him and the orchestra in the finale.

The Second Symphony (also Erkin's last) began its life in 1948 and was completed three years later. The orchestration was finished in 1958. It was premiered on 2 July 1958 in Munich under the baton of Karl Öhring. Like the other two works it is strongly tonal but the nationalistic elements are more vibrant, as they were in the Köçekçe, with a first movement full of crunching cataclysmic protest alternated with romantic reflection. There are moments that recall RVW's Fourth Symphony. At those points it feels like a true symphony of strife - a wartime statement in reminiscence. Its spirit is comparable with Rubbra's Fourth and Stanley Bate's Third although those two works were written contemporaneously with the war. The second movement Adagio starts in a relaxed way but becomes increasingly intense with woodblock impacts and a steadily rising gale of despair. The finale is in some measure a let-down; rather than developing the war-time trauma of the first two movements it adopts a dancingly nationalistic celebratory tone akin to the dance music of Bartók.

Naxos (here with sponsorship from DenizBank) introduce us to some major works from a Turkish composer that not even CPO have explored. Other Naxos CDs of Turkish music include Kamran Ince's Symphony No. 2 (8.572554) joining a disc of that composer's Third and Fourth Symphonies (8.557588) and Saygun's piano music (8.570746).

Rob Barnett



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