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Azerbaijani Music
Jovdat HAJIYEV (1917-2002)
Ballad [5:02]
Kara KARAYEV (1981-1982)
The Most Beautiful Beauty [4:51]
Waltz (from ballet The Seven Beauties) [4:08]
Arif MELIKOV (b.1933)
Three Preludes [4:50]
Azer RZAYEV (b.1930)
Reflection [5:18]
Akshin ALIZADEH (b.1937)
Saga [7:27]
The Sad Waltz [2:57]
Franghiz ALIZADEH Music for Piano [8:09]
Vagif MUSTAFAZADEH March [2:40]
Faradj KARAYEV (b.1943)
Monsieur Bee Line - Eccentric [5:53]
Ismayil HAJIBEYOV (b.1949)
Sketches in the Spirit of Watteau [7:30]
Javanshir GULIYEV
Seven Pieces with Interludes in Mugham Modes [9:38]
Ballad About the Motherland [4:25]
Nargiz Aliyarova (piano)
rec. 2016, Power Sound Studios, Amsterdam
ET'CETERA KTC1556 [69:10]

This disc of skilled playing and advocacy by the Azeri pianist Nargiz Aliyarova stands as a successor to her first Et'cetera disc - a Chopin recital (KTC1508). She was born in Baku in 1968 and now combines a distinguished academic prize-winning career with concerts - orchestral, chamber and solo - in Azerbaijan and Europe. Honours have come her way - and no wonder. We are told that she "discovered these pieces only gradually, over a period of years … [and] takes great delight in sharing the intriguing and self-revelatory aspects of this music." All credit to her for taking up the music of her homeland.

She opens the recital with Jovdat Hajiyev's Ballad. This composer wrote eight symphonies the first of which appeared in 1937 when he was 20. The Ballad is slow to stir from gloomy depths. Its trilling central-Asian exoticism later meets grand romantic gestures and rises to an eddying virtuosic flood. The effect is familiar from the Armenian, Haro Stepanian's piano music perhaps with a dash of Griffes or Baines.

Kara Karayev, alongside Fikret Amirov, bids fair to be Azerbaijan's most famous composer with orchestral recordings on Naxos (review review) and Delos; not to forget the Russian Revelation disc of the challenging Violin Concerto. Aliyarova keeps two places at the table for Karayev with the deliquescently romantic mistiness of The Most Beautiful Beauty and the haughty stiff gait of the Waltz from the wonderful ballet The Seven Beauties. The Waltz is reminiscent of Khachaturian's glaringly gaudy Masquerade Suite.

As with many of the other pieces here Melikov's Three Preludes show no trace of avant-garde tendency - subtle and pleasing. Early nationalistic Bartók is about as far as it goes although in the 1970s his music took on an unmistakably modernist colour. Melikov studied under Karayev - himself a Shostakovich pupil. Melikov's Second Symphony (1971) recorded years ago on Russian Revelation is dedicated to Shostakovich. Melikov's name may ring a more recent bell - this site has reviewed his Khachaturian-style ballet Legend of Love.

Rzayev's gentle Reflection is followed by Alizadeh's darkly swirling, minatory and enchanted Saga. It is as if the sinister spirit of Liadov's orchestral miniatures had gripped the composer. The same composer's agreeably saccharine Sad Waltz has the music-box and icicle sweetness of a 1970s soft-focus film score.
Franghiz Alizadeh's Music for Piano trades in a hesitant and halting magic in which bejewelled textures are accentuated by quiet shimmering effects. These are achieved by the pianist plucking the strings inside the piano case as in Ronald Stevenson's DSCH Passacaglia. Alizadeh taps into Eastern fantasy and the supernatural.

Vagif Mustafazadeh's March is no regimental defence corps strut. In fact, I would never have guessed the title from the music. It's more of a gauzy delicate fantasy than a march. Faradj Karayev is the son of Kara Karayev. He is already represented in the catalogue. His Monsieur Bee Line - Eccentric is a flighty, slightly jazzy and mildly dissonant miniature, presumably with Debussy's Général Lavine – Excentrique in mind.
Ismayil Hajibeyov’s Sketches in the Spirit of Watteau have a skippingly serene and indefatigable Bachian spirit: "… they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary". This enlivens the opening and close of this piece. There's hardly a trace of Azeri nationalism here. As the piece progresses, subtle dissonances add a tartness to the invention.

Javanshir Guliyev's Seven Pieces with Interludes in Mugham Modes again has the pianist beleaguering the whole piano rather than just the keyboard. It is the most challenging of the pieces recorded here by Aliyarova: dry, subtle and confiding rather than orating. The reference to the Mugam ("a highly improvisatory … large rhapsodic musical form … alternating song and dance …") may remind you of another Azeri composer who achieved modest fame outside his native country: Fikret Amirov (1922-1984). Amirov's Azerbaijan Mugam was recorded by Stokowski in Houston in 1959 for Everest. It never quite made it to the luridly coloured fame of Enescu's Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 but it stood in the way of Amirov's name being forgotten. This was until Olympia took up the cudgels with some sultrily exotic and impressionistic scores in the early 1990s.

Faik Sudjaddinov's Ballad About the Motherland is another irresistible honey-oozing exercise in misty sentimentality. When not rising to quasi-Rachmaninovian heights it indulges in trilling folk-exotic material.

The recording is warm and full-on. An unusually generous gap of silence separates each piece. Well done Et'cetera. Less impressive is the scant information about the music in the booklet and the lack of dates for each piece. That said, the notes by Jahangir Selimkhanov are readable and gently lead the listener through some unfamiliar shallows. The notes are in English and Azeri.

If this collection stirs your curiosity about Azerbaijani music then two multi-disc collections (review review) might also interest you although they will be hard to track down. Similarly tough to find is a two-disc Azeri and Western piano recital by Farhad Badalbeyli. Easier of access is a Naxos collection of Azeri piano concertos played by Badalbeyli.

This disc will reward those who have discovered the delights and challenges of Armenian piano music courtesy of Grand Piano and of the Albanian piano solos championed by Kirsten Johnson on Guild (Këngë and Rapsodi). Aliyarova's advocacy of a modest spectrum of Azerbaijan's piano music pays dividends.

Rob Barnett



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