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Karayev: The Seven Beauties, The Path of Thunder / Yablonsky

Release Date: 12/10/2013 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8573122   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Kara Karayev
Conductor:  Dmitry Yablonsky
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 9 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

KARAYEV The Seven Beauties: Ballet Suite. The Path of Thunder: Ballet Suite No. 2 Dmitry Yablonsky, cond; Royal PO NAXOS 8.573122 (69:22)

Azerbaijani composer Kara Karayev (1918–1982) quickly became one of Shostakovich’s favored students when he turned up to study at the Moscow Conservatory in 1938 at the age of 20. When he returned to his home in Baku in 1941, he set to work incorporating native folk music—that of his own land and Read more others—into a sizable body of works for the concert and recital hall. His orchestral works, especially the earliest ones, are notable for their exotic color, frequently revealing the influence of his teacher, but also at times that of Rimsky-Korsakov, of Prokofiev, and of Armenian contemporary Aram Khachaturian. Only a limited amount of his music ever made it to the West, primarily in recordings made in the Soviet Union, and he remains a relative unknown. The catalog is currently extremely thin.

In Fanfare 35:4, Barry Brenesal reviewed a Delos rerelease of Soviet-era recordings of suites from these two ballets conducted by Rauf Abdullayev. He was generally unimpressed with both works, though especially The Seven Beauties . John Bauman, reviewing the same recording in its earlier Russian Disc incarnation ( Fanfare 16:6 in 1993), was more positive. Listening to the earlier recording myself, I share Brenesal’s disappointment, but find the fault not in the music, but in the consistently vulgar and over-drawn performances which often sound crude and superficial. Listening to essentially the same music in this new recording, the lighter touch and freely flowing tempos favored by cellist-conductor Dmitry Yablonsky, along with a superior orchestra, creates a quite different impression.

Of course, no one will argue that The Seven Beauties ballet, completed in 1953, is music of great depth or that it is in any way groundbreaking. What it has is boisterous energy, charm, and passages of striking loveliness. The ballet was based on material from a symphonic suite of the same name from 1949, inspired by a poem of 12th-century Azerbaijani poet Nizami, the author who inspired the earlier symphonic suite Leyla and Medjnun . This ballet suite takes an almost symphonic form, with the exuberant “Waltz,” nocturnal Adagio with lovely horn solo, spirited “Dance of the Clowns” and concluding Prokofiev-like “Procession” forming a four-movement frame. Placed between the third and fourth is the sequence of seven musical portraits of the beauties of the title, each a wife of the legendary 5th-century Persian king Shah Bahram Gor. In a ruined castle, the spirit of each dances to music written to suggest her nationality: Indian, Slovak, Chinese, etc. The seventh portrait, of “The Most Beautiful of the Beauties,” serves as apotheosis of the long-departed women.

The Path of Thunder (1957) was inspired by a novel of the same name by Peter Abrahams, a story of forbidden inter-racial love in pre-apartheid South Africa. Listening to this assured and touching performance, it is hard now to reconcile its cool reception when it was first performed in the U.S. in 1961. Of course, that was during the Cold War—Khrushchev had just pounded his shoe in the UN—and this is conservative in the way of Socialist Realist music. No doubt its submission by the USSR to a fairly progressive festival in Los Angeles served both a provocative and propagandistic purpose. In retrospect though, the stand against apartheid cannot seem radical, and Karayev’s use of African themes and rhythms can be appreciated for its innovation, especially in the percussion-laced “Dance of the Black Community,” a movement left out of the earlier Abdullayev recording. What’s more, there are passages of exquisite beauty—the delicate “Lullaby” is a particular example—a passionate duet for the two lovers, and a powerful depiction of their martyrdom.

The earlier Naxos release of Karayev’s Symphony No. 3 and two suites (32:4 and 32:5) was performed by Yablonsky conducting the Russian Philharmonic. I still cannot find much of the scrappiness others complained of in the first release, but I doubt that anyone will disagree on the excellence of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, or on Yablonsky’s pivotal contribution to the success of this release. The Mike Clements engineered sound is full and detailed. Let’s hope there will be more Karayev from these forces. Highly recommended.

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames


Kara Karayev’s ballet music isn’t quite as unknown as the rest of his output. This exact coupling was released previously on Melodiya, then Olympia, and now evidently reissued on Delos. Fans of the brilliant and eccentric comedian Ernie Kovacs might notice that he used the concluding Procession from The Seven Beauties in one of his sketches. This was not unusual: Kovacs used Bartók as well. That earlier recording appeared, I believe, on Westminster and has never made it to CD.

The Seven Beauties, in any case, is a wonderful fairytale ballet from 1953 that sounds a bit like Khachaturian, a bit like Prokofiev, a bit like Shostakovich, and a lot like Karayev. The Path of Thunder is a socialist realist piece about love in apartheid South Africa, so unlike, for example, the picture of tolerance and brotherly love that was Russian in 1958 (never mind today). In any case, the music in both works isn’t just ethnic tunes over percussive ostinatos, but, especially in The Path of Thunder, it contains longer pieces with distinctive themes, substantially developed. It has real depth, and it’s beautifully scored.

This performance featuring the Royal Philharmonic under Dmitry Yablonsky is, not surprisingly, a bit more subtle and sophisticated than the rough-and-ready Melodiya competition, and it is very well recorded. Naxos has already devoted a disc to Karayev’s music (including his Third Symphony), and we badly need a systematic treatment of this very worthy contemporary of Shostakovich. Let’s hope that Naxos has more in the pipeline.

– David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less

Works on This Recording

Seven Beauties by Kara Karayev
Conductor:  Dmitry Yablonsky
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Azerbaijan 
In the Path of Thunder by Kara Karayev
Conductor:  Dmitry Yablonsky
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Azerbaijan 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  3 Customer Reviews )
 not too bad December 9, 2014 By Alessandro G. (PISTOIA, Italy) See All My Reviews "it is up to complete the knowledge of a composer during the Cold War." Report Abuse
 Exquisite Ballet Suites July 21, 2014 By Henry S. (Springfield, VA) See All My Reviews "On this superb Naxos CD, Azerbaijani composer Kara Karayev's two ballet suites, The Seven Beauties and The Path of Thunder, are given powerful, at times explosive, performances by the great Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Loaded with exotic rhythms and orchestral colors deriving their vitality from the cultures and traditions of the Transcaucasus, the music makes an immediate, deep, and positive impression upon first hearing. I am almost inclined to think The Seven Beauties could be compared, at least superficially, to Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, in that the suite is based on musical interpretations of seven portraits, the subjects of a 12th century poem. As for The Path of Thunder, this suite tackles a more modern theme, this one derived from a novel by a 20th century South African writer. The theme is apartheid and the catastrophic influence it has on natural romantic relationships. Needless to say, this suite has power, confrontation and conflict, cynical dissonance, tenderness, and pathos all mixed together in the style of Karayev's teacher- Dmitry Shostakovich. I found this disk to be gripping, with massive gravitas, not only from the quality of Karayev's scores, but equally from the splendor of the RPO sound under conductor Dmitry Yablonsky. Once again, Naxos' technical work in setting up this compact disk was outstanding, and the result is a recording that I think you will really like. Highly recommended." Report Abuse
 WOW January 29, 2014 By paul m. (simpsonville, SC) See All My Reviews "From the raucous opening section this Cd takes you into a magical journey through the musical wisdom of an often overlooked composer. These two ballets are wonderful as they ebb and flow with great passages that rival any of Tchaikovsky or Shostakovich ballets. Music that you want to listen to over and over again. I love all of the seven beauties and everything else on this CD. Great stuff." Report Abuse
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