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Amir Mahyar TAFRESHIPOUR (b.1974)
Persian Echoes: Concerto for harp and orchestra (2005) [21:17]
Alas: Quintet in two movements for oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn and piano [19:50]
Lucid Dreams: Trio for harp, violin and cello [8:21]
Yearning in C [9:25]
Christopher O’Neal (oboe); Helen Pierce (clarinet); Richard Skinner (bassoon); Katie Pryce (horn); Adi Tal (cello); Gabriella Dall’Olio (harp); Mary Dullea (piano)
Crash Ensemble/Darragh Morgan (violin)
English Chamber Orchestra/Alexander Rahbari
rec. 12 April 2016, Henry Wood Hall, London; 16 December 2014, The Forge, London; 28 June 2015 All Saints Church, London; 6 and 2 September 2016 St Peter’s Church, Drogheda
World premiere recordings.
NAXOS 8.579023 [59:26]

I’m normally reticent about trying music by living composers, partly out of fear that it may all turn out to be an avant-garde crash-bang experience, and partly because my tutors 50+ years ago forbade anything more ‘modern’ than Swinburne and Tennyson in an English degree syllabus1 and the concept remains in the back of my mind that it’s impossible to judge anything contemporary.

Throw in the exotic-sounding Persian Echoes – the title not just of the first work but of the whole CD – by a composer whose name sounds exotic, too, and I’ll give it a try. In this case I started by dipping a toe in via Naxos Music Library, a most valuable aid if you are not sure whether to buy the CD or the download and would like to try it first. Choose the ‘premium’ stream at 320kbs and you have a fair idea of how the CD will sound, though the 24-bit download from outdoes even the disc in that respect and can be obtained for a very reasonable $8.83. (16-bit CD-quality for an even more reasonable $5.80). Both the NML streamed version and the download come with the pdf booklet.

In the event, Persian Dreams, billed as the first-ever Iranian harp concerto, turns out to be both exotic and avant-garde to a degree, the presence of the harp both mitigating the modernity and reminding the listener of Debussy and Ravel. At times the music is almost as magically enticing as the latter’s entrancing Introduction and Allegro for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet, at other times more challenging.

It’s good, too, to see fellow Iranian Alexander Rahbari conducting; it’s some time since he made several worthwhile orchestral and opera recordings for Naxos, including a sensitive account of Debussy’s Images and Martyre de Saint Sébastien (8.550505 – stream from Naxos Music Library) and a Madama Butterfly with a very fine heroine in Miriam Gauci (8.660015/6 – stream from Naxos Music Library).

The ‘vast landscape’ of Alas, as the blurb describes it, is certainly more challenging and I didn’t find anything here on which to hang my coat. In fact, ‘vast landscape’ would not be my description, not by comparison with, say, Aaron Copland. This particular landscape is to be found in the desert region of Kavir e Lut in central Iran where ‘the only music is total silence’. I need longer to come to terms with this work – if I ever do.

The presence of the harp again in Lucid Dreams grounds this work rather more, but don’t expect anything as enticing as Debussy’s Trio for flute, viola and harp, coupled with the Ravel in classic performances from the Melos Ensemble (Decca 4211542, mid-price, with Franck and Debussy Violin Sonatas, Kyung-Wha Chung and Radu Lupu).

Overall, I found the music challenging rather than amenable. It’s good to be challenged and I shall persevere, especially with the title work, where I can’t deny the accuracy of the description of the ‘evocative modes and the lively rhythms of the region’s folk music’.

I take the well-recorded performances to be authoritative. The composer’s note in the booklet are brief but to the point.

I do recommend, however, streaming or sampling first if possible before buying the CD or download.

1 At least they were more enlightened than Robert Graves’ tutors, who rebuked him for preferring some works to others.

Brian Wilson


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