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Fazil SAY (b. 1970)
3 Ballades, op. 12 (arr. composer for piano and string quartet) [10:41]
The Moving Mansion, op. 72b (arr. composer for piano and string quartet) [15:17]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Quintet in E flat major, op. 44 (1842) [29:15]
Fazil Say (piano)
Rec. 2019, SRF Brunnenhof Studio 1, Zurich
SOLO MUSICA SM340 [55:18]

Fazil Say is a renowned concert pianist (see a review of his Beethoven sonatas) who has expanded his horizons into composition, including a number of works for full orchestra (review ~ review). The two works presented here are arrangements of solo piano pieces, quite contrasting in their nature, the Ballades soulful and full of melodies, The Moving Mansion much more dramatic and in places acerbic, though still tuneful. They do, however, betray their origins in that they can’t be described as piano quintets, more piano with string quartet accompaniment.

I very much enjoyed the Ballades in their piano and strings guise, and whilst not having heard the originals, I suspect this new arrangement would be my preference. There is a hint of cocktail lounge jazziness throughout, but in a good way (I am aware of having used this term in a recent review in a negative sense). Say has an evident gift for melody, and the three short movements – I wished they had been longer or that there had been more of them – are awash with lovely tunes. They aren’t deep or complex, but I think I’m safe in saying that they aren’t intended to be.

The Moving Mansion relates to a story surrounding the founder of the modern Turkish state, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and a plane tree that grew near his house on the shores of the Sea of Marmara. Over time, the tree began to damage the house, and Atatürk’s gardener suggested cutting the tree back. Atatürk could not accept that the tree should be damaged, and ordered that the house be moved instead. It was placed on rails and transported four metres to the east. The house is now a museum, and the tree still stands. The four movements tell this story, though as the notes only relate the basic events, I am giving you my interpretation. The first movement, Enlightenment, opens with rippling piano, signifying the water, and birdsong in the strings. The music becomes more nervous and strained, and then angry and dissonant as the second movement – Struggle Against Darkness – begins. I take this to be depicting the tree‘s impact on the house and possibly the wish of the gardener to cut the tree back. Peace returns in the third movement – Believing in Life. The final movement – Plane Tree – is the longest of the four by some margin, and has episodes of jazz-inflected stillness, interspersed by a more violent outburst, before we return to the waters and birdsong. My first impression was not especially positive, but a few more listens have changed my mind entirely. I also feel that the extra colours supplied by the strings in this arrangement have surely made it a much more effective piece, and in the final movement, there is a genuine sense of it being a true piano quintet.

With Schumann, we move to Say as performer only, and to one of the greatest works written for this combination. As a cornerstone of the repertoire, there is a lot of competition, and everyone will have their favourite version: mine is by Joyce Yang and the Alexander String Quartet (review), which supplanted that of Leif Ove Andsnes and the Artemis Quartet. While this new version is perfectly satisfactory, it doesn’t leap out of the speakers to grab one’s attention like the others do. The opening piano chords are quite restrained, and that mood seems to pervade much of the performance, which only really comes to life in the Finale which is marvellous. Had the whole work been so vibrant, then it might have been a contender.

The booklet notes are satisfactory, though as I’ve said, it is left to the listener to work out their own ideas about The Moving Mansion; perhaps that’s a good thing. The sound is rich and warm, not too closely miked, so that we don’t hear Say’s vocalisations which other reviewers have remarked upon.

I have been very impressed by Fazil Say as composer, and will seek out some of his orchestral music. The Schumann is what might draw prospective purchasers to this release, but I think it is Say’s pieces that will leave more of an impression.

David Barker

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