Can ATILLA (b. 1969)
Symphony No. 2 ‘Gallipoli – The 57th Regiment’ (2014)
Angela Ahiskal (soprano)
Onur Şenler (cello)
Bilkent Symphony Orchestra/Burak Tüzün
Texts included
rec. Bilkent Concert Hall, Ankara, Turkey, 27-29 April, 2015
NAXOS 8.579009 [54:45]

I came across this by accident. It was Can Atilla’s names that attracted me: Can Grande was the recipient of Dante’s letter of explanation on how to read his Paradiso and Atilla was, differently spelled – well, Attila, in real life and in Norse saga and the Middle High German Nibelungenlied. I don’t believe that the historical figure had any musical proclivities, though in the Poetic Edda Atlamál Gunnar dies at the hands of Atli (Attila) in a snake pit playing a harp with his toes!

The composer is, in fact, well known in his native Turkey for his film and television music, though this typically enterprising release, the world première recording of his Second Symphony, seems to be the only one available in the UK. Having composed the music for the film Gallipoli 1915 in 2012, he turned his attention to the soldiers of the 57th Turkish regiment, all of whom perished in one of the worst battles of World War I, but also in commemoration of Australian and New Zealand (ANZAC) troops who died on the other side.

The first two movements constitute a kind of sinfonia concertante with a prominent cello part. After a grandiose opening representing fate – shades of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky but in no way derivative – the tone is predominantly elegiac. Those averse to much contemporary classical and jazz music will be very pleasantly surprised to find nothing here to offend their sensibility. It’s almost as if Elgar had composed a fourth symphony, with a cello part as elegiac as anything in his Cello Concerto but with none of the angular and despairing aspects of that work.

I’m not aware of having heard cellist Onur Şenler before; though the notes refer to his ‘flourishing career’, I believe this is his first recording and I’d like to hear more, perhaps the Dvořák concerto, which appears to be part of his repertoire.

American soprano Angela Ahiskal comes into play in the third movement and finale. Again this seems to be her sole outing on record and I’d like to hear more of her too: in the poem Within my heart I hear the cry she makes me think of some of the best interpreters of Samuel Barber’s Knoxville – another work with 1915 as its referent, though Knoxville in that year before the USA entered the war was a very different place from Gallipoli.

Those two final movements in some ways mirror the first two, with loss the predominant mood in the third and reconciliation after battle that of the finale. Once again if presented with either of these movements sight unseen and asked to name the composer I might well have named Elgar, thinking the third movement perhaps one of his WWI laments for Belgium or Poland. There’s a hint of the close of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, too, in the finale before that evocation of Samuel Barber. These are all to do, however, with capturing the right mood and in no way to be taken even remotely as plagiarism.

As this is the first recording and there is unlikely to be a successor, at least for some time, I take the authority of the performance on trust. The Bilkent Symphony Orchestra has made several fine recordings, mainly with Idil Biret as soloist and they come over well on this recording.

Conductor Burak Tüzün, like the soloists, seems to be a neophyte in the UK recording catalogue, though the booklet lists several concert recordings which he has made with the Haceteppe Orchestra, one of which, containing music by Ílhan Baran (Modal Variations) and Ateş Pars (Symphony No.9) on A.K.Müzik can be streamed or downloaded from Qobuz. He also conducts on part of the 15-CD Idil Biret 20 th Century Piano Edition (8.501504, available for around £42 or available to be streamed by subscribers to Naxos Music Library).

The booklet itself is very informative. It seems to exist in two versions, one of which contains some German verses and their English translation which are not sung. Both do include the words which are sung.

With recording in Naxos’s best tradition, this is a thoroughly enjoyable release, not just a mere curiosity but a real discovery persuasively presented. I look forward to hearing more from all concerned.

Brian Wilson

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