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- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Let me offer a sobering view. Sure, Turkish "traditional" music - not all that is played by the Sarband ensemble qualifies as « traditional », in fact, some of it is court music, but the difference is not all that striking to audiences not familiar with these subtle differences - is appealing, if you have a taste for that kind of music, integral with the chants of the pilgrims en route for Mecca (track 17). And the « Turkish » music of the 18th century composers from the Austro-German and Northern area (of which Mozart's overture to Entführung is of course the most famous, but Sussmayr's Turkish symphony is also an outstanding specimen - Sussmaryr being mostly remembered as the guy who completed Mozart's Requiem) is very entertaining, if you have a taste for that kind of music.
But in fact, the two don't marry so well, maybe because of Concerto Köln's and Sarband's decision NOT to perform any original « Janissary » music, which is what provided the model to the Turkish-inspired Western classical composers. There's nothing boisterous, military, romping, rackety in the original 17th/18th century Turkish music performed by Sarband. It is melismatic (Turkish melismata). There is little that is melismatic in the Turkish-inspired music of the Western composers performed by Concerto Köln: it is usually boisterous, military, romping and rackety.
So really, if you are interested in 17th and 18th Turkish traditional or court music, you'll get half a disc, and if you're interested in romping 18th century Turkish-inspired Western classical music, you'll get half a disc. Maybe not a bad thing after all: 5 minutes of overture to Entführung is fine and fun, but imagine the same thing extended to 70 minutes! Really Mozart's overture, the overture to Glück's opera "La Rencontre imprévue" (The Unexpected Encounter), Kraus' Allegro (track 10) and Dance of Elmira (track 15) from the ballet music of his opera Soliman II, and Süssmayr's Turkish symphony are all very entertaining, but they all sound out of the same pen, and all use the same Janissary formulas. Had they been played in direct succession they'd presumably have worn out their welcome fast.
Still, there is something puzzling and paradoxical about the artists' choice. Did they think that performing original janissary music would have been too obvious? But I find that, indeed, it WOULD have been interesting to hear original specimens of what became, through the lenses of the Vienna-related composers, « Turkish » music. Or, conversely, it would have been nice if Concerto Köln could have found some compositions from the austro-german classical era whose melodic twists were inspired by the kind of melismata found in the pieces performed by Sarband. But here we get two very loosely-related recitals, instead of one mirroring the other. Is there a message about the impossibility for East and West to really communicate?
Maybe so, since the disc's basic stance is that there was no true communication between the two music universes, and that Western "Turkish" music had very small relation to real Turkish music. The disc brings together an original 17th century "Song of the dervishes" (track 21) and Joseph Martin Kraus' "March of the dervishes" from his opera Soliman (track 22), and from that comparison the liner notes conclude that "the actual authentic Orient was invariably of only secondary interest" to Western composers, whose "aim" was only "to alieanate and amuse the audience".
And it is not that genuine Turkish music was not, or could not be known. Various ethno-musicologists "avant-la-lettre" from the 17th and 18th centuries notated original Turkish music and sometimes published it in the West - this is what provided the sources used by Sarband. But here again, there is something a bit frustrating in reading in the track listings that the "Concerto turco nominato `Isia semaisi'" (Turkish Concerto named...), "notated and published by Marquis de Ferriol [the liner notes are silent about him, but Wikipedia indicates that he was a French ambassador in Turkey], reprinted in Giovanni Battista Toderini's Letteratura Turchesca (Venice, 1787)", or the March of the Janissaries notated by the Moldavian Prince Dimitrie Cantemir, are here performed in arrangements by the founder and leader of Sarband, Vladimir Ivanoff. So we are left wondering what is truly how it sounded back then, and what is Ivanoff's reconstruction.
One of the disc's interests nonetheless is to open the question (although it leaves it unanswered) of how the West approached the cultures of the Orient, what it selected and drew from them and why it left so much aside - why, from Istambul, ONLY the Viennese Croissants and the Janissary music, the racket and the romp of the fifes and percussion? But the true encounter of West and East staged by this CD lies in the fact that it is the percussion of Sarband that play the percussion in the Western compositions performed by Concerto Köln, and Concerto Köln that play with Sarband in the Turkish Concerto notated by Marquis de Ferriol and the Janissaries' March notated by Dimitrie Cantemir. A presentation by Concerto Köln's leader, violinist Werner Eberhardt, hints at the fact that the encounter wasn't such an easy process, so different are the performing traditions.
To me the disc's main attractions are the concept (although it promises more than it delivers), the compositions of Gluck and Sussmayr (not that I hold the Entführung-overture for an inferior specimen in the genre, but it is hardly an unfamiliar work), and the enthusiasm and drive of Concerto Köln.