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Ahmed Adnan SAYGUN (1907-1991)
Symphonies No. 3 Op. 39 (1961); No. 5 Op. 70 (1984)
Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz/Ari Rasilainen
Recorded at the Ludwigshafen Philharmonie, November 2002
CPO 999 968-2 [62.30]


These two works date from 1961 and 1984 respectively and the disc is a follow-up to the 2002 release of Saygun's first two symphonies also conducted by Ari Rasilainen (CPO 999 819-2). In preparing this review I also listened to the two Piano Concertos (Koch Schwann 3-1350-2) with Gulsin Onay, the pianist, recorded in 1991

I am on safe ground if I say that Saygun's major works are utterly unknown outside Turkey and that it is difficult to imagine a concert performance of any of them in the UK or the USA. Therefore what we need are excellent performances on CD. This has most definitely been achieved on each of these three discs. But does the music square up?

I have to say straight away that these latest works do not have the immediate appeal of the earlier ones; indeed they lack a distinct character. That is the initial impression. The Turkish elements, the clash between Western and Eastern musics which was quite apparent in the first two symphonies is less easily discerned here.

Saygun uses modal melodies and harmonies and these are derived from those of his homeland. The booklet notes describe him as one of the 'Turkish Five' but do not tell us who the others are, only the Russian five! Speaking of the notes, I have come across the writer the redoubtable Habukuk Traber before and his translator Susan Praeder, and find him mostly quite impenetrable. Anyway my own researches produced some little known names like Ulvi Cemal Erkin and Ferit Alnar (try to find a Hungaroton disc HCD 31455 'Turkish Orchestral works if you want to hear more including Saygun’s 'Five Turkish Folk Songs') who use modes. Like Saygun Turkish dance rhythms are used in many of their works. Saygun, with half an eye on the west also uses intense chromaticism even atonality. His palette therefore is broad and colourful. The slow movement of the 1st Symphony (1953) has a winding modal Oriental type melody sung out by the oboe. However in the symphonies featured on the present disc the two elements are held more naturally together. The oriental influences are there but are just one of many ingredients.

Rhythmically the Bartók influence is strong. Saygun had after all been Bartók's assistant on his field trips. They shared these intensive folk-music studies during the mid-1930s travelling around Anatolia. Saygun served as interpreter and adviser. His early music can appear a little like 'Turkish-Bartók'. Not long after however, Saygun's style, nurtured by Turkish art music from the comfortable home from which he came, had undergone a considerable evolution. Nevertheless motoric ostinati common in Bartók are not far from his language as in the Scherzo section of the 3rd Symphony.

French Impressionism is also unmistakable in Saygun, as in the evocative middle movement of the 1st Piano Concerto [1958] with its barren landscape. It is also detectable in the 5th Symphony's Tranquillo third movement but also throughout his work. I say Impressionism it is the sound world of Ravel, really I should add crossed with Bartok in his dark brooding 'Bluebeards' Castle' vein a mood I can certainly detect also in the 1st movement of the 5th.

Having said all this however about influences to try to give you some idea of how the music sounds I must conclude that when listening to his works we hear nothing more or less than symphonic music sometimes dark and passionate and often dazzling with orchestral brilliance and virtuosity which can easily hold its own with the works of Western masters. These works are characterized by and impressively demonstrate the adaptability of traditional western forms but which also abound in elements of non-western thinking.

So to conclude. If you have not heard any Saygun yet then perhaps start with the first two symphonies and then probably the piano concertos before going on to these works. Nevertheless these are fine pieces and superbly played and recorded. Ari Rasilainen cannot have had any opportunities to try them out on an unsuspecting pupil and yet his pacing and orchestral balance seems to be ideal.

Gary Higginson



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