Hormoz FARHAT (b. ca.1928)
Piano Sonata No. 1 (1957) [13:50]
Piano Sonata No. 2 (2010) [23:08]
Amir Mahyar TAFRESHIPOUR (b. 1974)
Shabahang (2017) [7:02]
Pendar for Piano [9:25]
Celebration at Pasargadae [5:45]
Mary Dullea (piano)
rec. Menuhin Hall, Cobham, Surrey, December 20-21, 2010
MÉTIER MSV28610 [72:40]
Given the disc’s title, it has been quite apt listening to it in early November, and to the various colours and moods which these contrasting pieces conjure up. The title may refer to the beautiful booklet front photograph taken in the Semnan Province in Iran.
To begin with the younger composer, we are treated to four works by Amir Tafreshipour. Sometimes is practically impossible to describe music in words. We are supposed to do just that, but Shabahang has stumped me. The textures are contrapuntal and complex, with interweaving lines, not atonal are also not really tonal. I should maybe think of Sorabji and the concept of a Persian carpet, all elaborate and highly decorated with no clear form, and yet not random or haphazard. The inspiration might be the clue: water and sea, especially off the west coast of Ireland. This idea would appeal to the remarkable pianist on this disc, Mary Dullea, who is herself Irish and who has taken an especial interest in contemporary piano music.
The style and compositional technique remains the same in Yasna. It all happens at a slower rate and at a similar dynamic, except a brief climax point at just after 5:10 The reason is that the inspiration is “contrasting several forms and gestures of sound to describe a spiritual ceremony”. The composer found it in the quiet remoteness of a Zoroastrian community which he visited.
With music moving from moment to moment, seemingly unrelated, one might think of fleeting, dreamlike thoughts, which might play out an inner drama. It seems that Pendar means ‘thoughts’. It is one of a series of pieces of the same name for a solo instrument rather like Berio’s Sequenzas. Once you are into the sound of this world, it haunts you. And the monumental opening of Celebration at Pasargadae captures a picture of the ageless steps They carry the listener to the ancient capitol of Achaemenid during the reign Cyrus the Great in the 6th century BCE, and a traditional ceremony proclaiming the Persian New Year. I have come to see the more reflective middle section as typical of Tefreshipour – a much needed moment of stastis.
Hormoz Farhat was the first Iranian composer to study in America. His teachers at the UCLA included Darius Milhaud and Roy Harris, no less. Another was Lukas Foss, who sight-read the Piano Sonata No. 1 and pronounced it ‘singularly original’; I would whole-heartedly concur. It is in four movements, the second marked unusually Adagio con finesse, and the third a rather menacing Moderato. The finale is a Rondo in which Farhat’s style of harmony is best exposed: often based on fifths, freely chromatic but not atonal and with a propensity to bi-tonality. Having said that, I must admit to not having, as yet, got a handle on this work and its rather disparate material.
However, the Toccata is a terrific little piece of young man’s music. It is based on a Persian folk song and feels very Persian, as it were, both in its rhythmic impulse and its modal melodies. It falls into a binary structure; a single winding melody forms its centre.
It was more than fifty years before Hormoz Farhat felt ready to write his Piano Sonata No. 2, although one can pick out certain earlier fingerprints: rhythmic, as with the openings of the first and the third movements, and harmonic, with open chords often based on the intervals of fourths and fifths. But this is mainly a very different composition. The Sonata is in three movements, with a lengthy, coruscating Allegretto to start things off. The middle movement, Largo con molto espressione, is beautifully evocative of the type of landscape pictured on the front of the booklet, and the finale, Molto animato, includes a short fugue in its central section. The Sonata is an impressive achievement, and it is certainly a virtuoso work. Amongst its various airings, Soheil Nasseri, the dedicatee, has played it in Ireland. The country links both composers with pianist Mary Dullea who clearly is in total sympathy with the language of each composer.
The booklet notes are brief but useful and untechnical. A fascinating and courageous release.