FAZIL SAY: Istanbul Symphony; Hezarfen Concerto for Ney and Orch. – Burcu Karadag, ney/ Hakan Gungor, Kanun/ Aykut Koselerli, Turkish percussion/ Borusan Istanbul Orch./ Gurer Aykal, cond./ Orch. of National Theater Mannheim/ Dan Ettinger – Naïve (CD + DVD)
Published on June 26, 2013
FAZIL SAY: Istanbul Symphony; Hezarfen Concerto for Ney and Orchestra – Burcu Karadag, ney/ Hakan Gungor, Kanun/ Aykut Koselerli, Turkish percussion/ Borusan Istanbul Orch./ Gurer Aykal, cond./ Orch. of National Theater Mannheim/ Dan Ettinger, cond. – Naïve V 5315 (CD + DVD Concert and Documentary), 68:00, 90:00 [Distr. by Naxos] ***:
What is a ney, you say? Well, it’s is an end-blown flute originating from Iran that has been around for about 5000 years, making it possibly one of if not the oldest instrument in existence. It is quite prominent in Middle Eastern music, and in some cultures the only wind instrument that is used, so its importance can hardly be over-exaggerated. Burcu Karadag plays the thing with a lot of soul and passion, as well as I can imagine, and Fazil Say’s Hezarfen Concerto–named after Ottoman aviation pioneer Hezarfen Ahmet Celebi who in 1632 flew, with wings of his own devising, over 300 kilometers–would seem to be a good modern vehicle for the instrument. Its four movements, which already makes it something less than a true concerto, are “Istanbul 1632”, “Galata Tower”, “The Flight” (which took off from the tower), and “Algerian Exile” (as he was deemed a dangerous man). So what we really have is a tone poem, not unlike the symphony which I will get to in a moment, with the ney as an accompanying instrument. Say, an amazing pianist who dabbles in conducting and composing as well, is not bad as the latter but also not the first rank either. One is intrigued because of all the references and musical aspirations of his own culture found in this music, but as music per se I don’t find a lot aside from the exotic to hang on to.
The symphony, Istanbul, is like a musical travelogue. Overall I enjoyed it more than the concerto, and it does possess a tunefulness and rhythmic energy (lots of 7/8 meter) that can be quite attractive. The seven movements, very much descriptive-oriented and wedded to the music as if sewn on, are “Nostalgia”, “Religious Order”, “Blue Mosque”, “Merrily clad young ladies aboard the ferry to the Princes’ Islands”, “About the travelers to Anatolia departing from the Haydar Pasha train station”, “Oriental Night”, and “Final”. As a tone poem there are certainly some sweeping, even gorgeous melodies in places, and I felt as if I had been transported to Istanbul in spirit if not in person. But a symphony it most definitely is not, and none of the typical tried and true devices used in the form are present here. Not to disparage the piece, but it could easily serve as movie music for something from the region as well.
Both orchestras play very well even though there are some obvious weaknesses, most notably a lack of heft in the strings. Sound is a little thin but nothing objectionable. The accompanying DVD gives a documentary about both works, and a complete concert performance of the symphony.