Piano music by
Ahmet Adnan Saygun -
'... unfailing rhythmic clarity and beautifully controlled dynamics ...'
Finally, a piano recital I'll unhesitatingly list among the outstanding discs to have come my way in 2008.
Throughout this programme the piano works of Ahmet Adnan Saygun (1907-1991), written as widely apart as 1934 and 1976, reveal a compositional 'voice' of stunning individuality. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire and subsequently at the Schola Cantorum with Madam Eugene Borrel, Vincent d'Indy, Monsieur Borrel, Souberbielle and Amedee Gatoue.
At that time Saygun assimilated what he could of Western culture and hung out with a group of young Turkish painters benefitting from enlightened cultural policies introduced by founder and first President of the Republic of Turkey; Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938). Atatürk declared 'We shall make the expansion and rise of Turkish culture in every era, the mainstay of the Republic.'
Saygun's position in Turkey as one of the selfstyled 'Turkish Five', with Ulvi Cemal Erkin (1906-1972), Cemal Resit Rey (1904-1985), Necil Kazim Akses (1908-1999) and Hasan Ferit Alnar (1906-1978), was unassailable, and he remains one of the most important composers of the New Turkey.
To complete the equation Naxos has called upon trenchant pianist Zeynep Ucbasaran, a countrywoman of Saygun and both dazzling and poetic in these Turkish idioms. No pianist better suited to this music springs to mind.
Ucbasaran (born in Istanbul) entered the Istanbul Conservatory, aged four, and went on successively to the Franz Liszt Academy of Music (Budapest), the Hochschule für Musik, Freiburg, Germany and the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.
She is resident in Santa Barbara (California), a recipient of multiple awards and for Eroica Classics has recorded works of Liszt, Schubert, Scarlatti, Beethoven, Bernstein, Muczynski and Mozart.
The largest chunk of Ucbasaran's programme is occupied by piano works of the 60s and 70s; 12 Preludes on Aksak Rhythms Op 45 and 10 Sketches on Aksak Rhythms 0p 58 -- the two separated from one another by nine years.
Prospective CD collectors be assured -- all thirty five tracks are tonal or modal -- in short the entire one hour and eleven minutes are eminently agreeable.
Aksak ('limping') rhythmic structure stems from the traditional folk and vernacular music of Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and the Balkans. It combines unequal beats, ie 2+3 and their extensions; notably 2+2+2+3, dubbed Bulgarian rhythm (a characteristic of Béla Bartók). Aksak also includes divisions of eight beat structure with unequal subdivisions -- viz: 2+3+3. As eastern folk music filtered westward, Aksak rhythms began appearing in works of twentieth century compositions of peninsula Europe -- particularly in music of Stravinsky.
Saygun eventually became a friend and colleague of Bartók; a partnership reinforced through their shared interest in ethnomusicology. In 1936, he and Bartók toured Anatolia collecting numerous folk songs from the Osmaniye region of Adana, then transferred them to conventional musical notation. At that time Osmaniye was a small town in the southeast of Turkey, just north of the Gulf of Iskenderun on the Mediterranean Sea. In 1996 it attained the status of a province.
Ucbasaran begins her programme with Saygun's immediately arresting Anadolu'dan (From Anatolia, 1945); in three short movements, 'Meseli', 'Zeybek' and 'Halay'. Note that Anatolia is bounded by the Black Sea (north), the Mediterranean (south), the Aegean (west), and the bulk of the Asian mainland (east). 'From Anatolia' serves to introduce the listener to unfamiliar, irregular, eastern folk rhythms -- eg 'Meseli' has a 2+2+2+3 9/8 pulse which virtually commands the attention.
Listen -- Meseli (From Anatolia)
(track 1, 0:00-0:37) © 2008 Naxos Rights International Ltd
Together the Aksak preludes (1967) and sketches (1976) occupy more than 43 minutes of Ucbasaran's recital, and it's here that Saygun's rhythmic, fulgurant intricacies built around simple folk themes are best displayed.
The 12 Preludes of 1967 are dedicated to the internationally acclaimed pianist Idil Biret (born Ankara, 1941). The longest lasts 3 minutes 32 seconds; the shortest 56 seconds. To western ears it may sound pretty quirky -- eg Prelude No 3, track 6. But there's never a lack of interest -- witness the beguiling poetry of Prelude No 8, track 11.
Listen -- Prelude No 8 (12 Preludes)
(track 11, 0:00-1:01) © 2008 Naxos Rights International Ltd
The following Prelude No 9 resembles a mini-sonata marked Presto -- Largo -- Tempo 1.
The 10 Sketches Op 58 (nine years later) are similarly brief and begin with an impelling Preciso. Once more, variety is the order of the day as is clearly evident in the wide dramatic scope of Sketch No 5, track 27.
Listen -- Sketch No 5 (10 Sketches)
(track 27, 0:25-1:17) © 2008 Naxos Rights International Ltd
Inci'nin Kitabi (Inci's Book, 1934), written while Saygun was in his twenties, consists of seven charming miniatures; titled 'The Giant Puppet', 'Lullaby', 'Playful Kitten' and so on. Stylistically they're not unlike Bartók's 153 Mikrokosmos though Naxos sleeve note writer Keith Anderson likens them to Fauré's Dolly Suite.
The three-movement Sonatina Op 15 (1938) deserves a place in the wider piano concert repertory. It brings this resoundingly successful disc to a thrilling, if somewhat abrupt conclusion with a Turkish 'Horon', a dance style of Pontus found in regions bordering on the Black Sea.
Listen -- Horon (Sonatina Op 15)
(track 35, 0:03-0:56) © 2008 Naxos Rights International Ltd
Ucbasaran performs with unfailing rhythmic clarity and beautifully controlled dynamics; while the Naxos production captures her to a tee.
Besides his succession of Turkish awards beginning in 1948 and lasting through 1990, Adnan Saygun was the recipient of international recognition from the time of his Yunus Emre Oratorio, premièred (1947) in Paris with the Lamoureux Orchestra.
That year he was elected to the International Folk Music Council as an executive member. He was honored with the Palmes Academique Medal of the Ministry of Education in France in 1949, and in 1955 was awarded the Frederich Schiller Medal by West Germany. The Italian Government gave him the first prize of Stella Delia Solideriate Medal in 1958, and in the same year he received the Jean Sibelius Composition Medal of the Harriet Cohen International Music Award.
Because of his collaboration with Béla Bartók, Saygun received two prizes from the Hungarian Government: in 1981 he was honored with the Béla Bartók Diploma; and in 1986 he received the Pro Cultura Hungarica Prize from the Commemoration Committee of Bartók.
Copyright © 17 September 2008
Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand
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Ahmet Adnan Saygun: Piano Music
8.570746 DDD Stereo NEW RELEASE 71'05" 2008 Naxos Rights International Ltd
Zeynep Ucbasaran, piano
Ahmet Adnan Saygun (1907-1991):
Anadolu'dan (From Anatolia) Op 25 (1945) (Meseli: Allegramente; Zeybek: Sostenuto e pesante; Halay: Con moto)
Aksak Tartilar Uzerine 12 Prelüd (12 Preludes on Aksak Rhythms) Op 45 (1967) (No 1; No 2: Vivo; No 3; No 4; No 5: Pesante; No 6: Molto vivo; No 7 Moderato - Molto vivo; No 8; No 9: Presto - Largo - Tempo I; No 10; No 11 - Allegro; No 12: Vivo)
Inci'nin Kitabi (Inci's Book) Op 10 (1934) (Inci: Colme; Afacan 'Kedi' (Playful Kitten): Giocoso; Masal (A Tale): Misterioso; Kocaman Bebek (The Giant Puppet): Animato; Oyun (A Joke): Animato; Ninni (Lullaby): Tranquillo; Rüya (A Dream): Colme)
Aksak Tartilar Üzerine 10 Taslak (10 Sketches on Aksak Rhythms) Op 58 (1976) (Preciso; Lento; Animato; Vivace; Moderato; Vivo; Moderato; Animato; Andante; Comodo)
Sonatina Op 15 (1938) (Allegro; Adagio, con moto; Horon: Prestissimo)