Notes and Editorial Reviews
Theme and Variations (revised version).
Sketches on Aksak Rhythms
Études on Aksak Rhythms,
Nos. 3, 4, 5, 7, 10
Kathryn Woodard (pn)
ALBANY TROY1168 (56: 14)
This is a remarkable disc. Above and beyond Kathryn Woodard’s magnetic musicality lies her staunch and unwavering advocacy of Saygun’s music, music that is at once appealing and approachable yet at the same time mysterious and complex. The interview reproduced above introduces many of the concepts that lie behind this music.
The Theme and Variations, part of the op. 2 Suite, was written in 1931 while Saygun was still a student at the Schola Cantorum in Paris, where he was a pupil of Vincent d’Indy. The Suite was actually Saygun’s first work for solo piano. Woodard presents the composer’s own reworked version (no exact date is available). The theme actually recurs in the manner of a ritornello. Above all it is the strength of conviction that the composer exhibits that is so impressive here. Forty-five years later, Saygun wrote the
10 Sketches on Aksak Rhythms
, op. 58. Some of these (No. 2, for example) sound almost improvised. Others, like the first (mentioned in the interview with reference to its invocation of the Black Sea kemence, a small bowed fiddle), are more clearly rhythmic. The musical language itself frequently calls on octatonic and pentatonic scales. Woodard seems to be able to enter easily and immediately into the character of each individual movement. Perhaps the buzzing No. 4 is the most overtly exciting movement; she is also completely unapologetic of the dissonances of No. 5, while the dark, low-register oscillations of No. 7 emerge as a sort of Turkish tribute to late Liszt. A sense of play informs the final sketch.
The three pieces that constitute
From Anatolia (Anadolu’dan)
of 1945 are “Me¸seli,” “Zeybek,” and “Halay.” Each originates from a different region. The simplicity of “Zeybek” is most inviting.
(1934) is pure delight. It dates from the same year as the premiere of two of Saygun’s operas (what are the chances of hearing a Saygun opera, I wonder?). In using simple textures, it acts as a sort of distillation of Saygun’s thought. The results can be surprising. The penultimate movement, a Lullaby, is almost heartbreaking in its effect. With textures stripped down to an absolute minimum, it is almost unbearably poignant. The final movement, “Dream,” emerges as an expressive prolongation of the lullaby.
There is a 30-year gap between
and the Études, op. 38 (1964). In the latter, Saygun writes in his most astringent manner. According to Woodard’s booklet notes, “these pieces have become a rite of passage for serious piano students in Turkey.” The second étude we hear, No. 4, is an intriguing mix of Debussian textures with quasi-improvised melody. The slowly evolving, exploratory nature of No. 7, with its use of wide registral spaces, makes for huge contrast to the final étude we hear (No. 10), a splendid, virtuoso way to close the disc.
The Naxos competition comes in the form of Zeynep Üçba¸saran (reviewed by myself in
32:2). The two discs offer complementary programs (although there is some overlap). While I admire Üçba¸saran’s sense of rhythm and her enthusiasm, it is Woodard that captures the laurels as she seems most attuned to Saygun’s modes of expression. Albany’s recording, also, offers a truer piano sound than that accorded by Naxos.
FANFARE: Colin Clarke
Works on This Recording
From Anatolia, Op. 25 by Ahmed Adnan Saygun
Kathryn Woodard (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
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