- Anadolu'dan (From Anatolia), Op. 25
- Preludes (12) on Aksak Rhythms for piano, Op 45
- Inci'nin Kitabi (Inci's Book), for piano, Op. 10
- Sketches (10) on Aksak Rhythm, Op. 58
- Sonatine for piano, Op 15
Ahmet Adnan Saygun: Piano Musicby Zeynep Ucbasaran
Ahmed Adnan Saygun, born in 1907 in the ancient Turkish city of Izmir, was something between a colleague and a protégé of Bartók, assisting the Hungarian composer in the collection of Turkish folk music. His career veered rather uneasily between Turkey and the West, however, and some of his orchestral music is firmly in the neo-classic camp, using Turkish materials as flavoring. The short piano pieces on this disc are closer to Bartók in style, and indeed they offer a model for a nationalist music that is not Romantic in spirit. The sets of preludes and sketches on "Aksak" rhythms do not refer to a specific region; the word might be translated as "limping," and it indicates additive rhythms that alternate binary and ternary elements. All the music on the disc uses these rhythms, some of which Bartók guessed to be Bulgarian in origin, but the shorter pieces are the most rhythmically pungent. Modal and brisk without being really dissonant, they resemble the dance pieces in the last two books of Bartók's "Mikrokosmos," but exceed even the most intricate of those in rhythmic complexity. "Inci'nin Kitabi" (Inci's Book, 1934) is childlike but not children's music; it resembles the Dolly suite of Fauré in its evocation of a child who was part of the composer's life. Turkish-American pianist Zeynep Ucbasaran, who has released several strong recordings of both Turkish and Western music, is entirely comfortable with this idiom and delivers vigorous, commanding performances. Recommended for anyone who likes Bartók's piano music.
- Release Date:
Performance CreditsZeynep Ucbasaran Primary Artist
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I hadn't heard of Turkish composer Ahmet Saygun (1907-91) until recently when I noticed a few reviews of CPO releases of his orchestral music. According to information on the web site of Bilkent University, where there is a music research center in his name, his opus numbers go up to 78 and he composed in all genres. This new Naxos disc gives us 5 of his 13 piano works, stretching from 1934 to 1976. A quick glance at the titles immediately suggests an inspiration from Turkish folk music, and if you suspect that Saygun was a Turkish Bartok then you're partly right. The 3 pieces "From Anatolia" are the most obviously folk-like, with unusual rhythms and a strong bass sound. They're dances so they're entertainments first and foremost, and very enjoyable they are. The 12 Preludes on Aksak Rhythms are a different kettle of fish. 'Aksak' means 'limping', and the booklet notes provide some information on the various metres used, although that makes them sound a little drier than they are. The rhythms occasionally give them a folk-like character but they can be called modern music. There's little 'tune' as such but there's plenty going on. I found the music to be somewhat arbitrary - at times it sounds like someone just noodling away, improvising, and I suspect they may be more enjoyable to play than to listen to. But they are worth hearing, certainly. Inci's Book, the earliest work here, is basically a children's album and not unexpectedly is much more simple and charming. Some of the pieces seem quite melancholy, including a rather sad lullaby. They would grace any “music for children” collection. Then it's back to more aksak rhythms. I enjoyed these Sketches more than the earlier Preludes. A few have the motoric quality that you get in Ligeti, and the 7th especially is quite impressionistic. They have a tendency to begin one way and then meander off into something else - I suppose that's the nature of a sketch - but your attention is always held. Finally the very likeable Sonatina, whose formal structure is welcome after the preceding music. This again seems to have some impressionistic elements, well integrated with its Turkish ones. It includes a very nice slow movement and a storming finale that clatters to an abrupt end. My overall impression of the disc is a favourable one. Some pieces were more enjoyable than others but the disc is well programmed for variety and as usual Naxos must be praised for giving exposure to a lesser-known composer. I think it's reasonable to assume that Zeynep Ucbasaran, who has recorded some of this music before for Eroica, is as fine an exponent of the music as it needs, and the recorded piano sound is great.
The piano music of Ahmet Saygun achieves the rare distinction of appealing equally to the intellect and the emotions. The Turkish composer, one of the most important and influential in his country’s history, combined Western and Turkish musical elements to produce fresh, compelling and original sounds. He could probably be described as a neoclassicist, but one who ventured often and effectively into an accessible modernism. There is perhaps no clearer expression of his aesthetic than in his utterly beguiling solo piano music. The five works on this Naxos disc encompass a wide chronological, stylistic and emotional span. “From Anatolia,” written in 1945, is a relatively brief three- movement piece that strongly evokes the composer’s Turkish roots, yet its impressionistic, otherworldly atmosphere transcends temporal associations. A similar sense of simplicity and poignancy is conjured in “Inci’s Book.” Most of the movements in this piece are a minute or less in length, and their brevity only enhances their gossamer charm. Also included are two longer suites based on traditional Turkish rhythms—“12 Preludes on Aksak Rhythms” and “10 Sketches on Aksak Rhythms.” These sound utterly contemporary with their lyrical yet angular melodies, halting rhythmic progression and vibrant percussive effects. Yet the structural innovations never overpower the mesmeric mood and emotional coloration. Last and certainly not least is the composer’s 1938 “Sonatina,” which features a strong spiritual flavor and engaging tempo changes. Although cast in a more traditional form, it nevertheless hints at the more adventuresome direction Saygun would eventually take. The Turkish pianist Zeynep Ucbasaran proves herself a capable and sensitive interpreter of Saygun’s music. Her touch and tone are faultless, and her performance elicits all of the clarity, insight and emotion of these wonderful pieces.