Symphony No.3, Op.39
Symphony No.5, Op.70
Recorded November 2002 in the Philharmonie, Ludwigshafen, Germany
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: July 2004
CD No: CPO 999 968-2
Duration: 63 minutes
Colourful and atmospheric, these two symphonies are tradition-based in terms of western symphonic design while sympathetically integrating the Turkish heritage of Ahmed Adnan Saygun (1907-1991). It’s a satisfying synthesis rich in pulsating rhythm and languorous melody, Saygun’s vivid orchestration playing a significant part in achieving an alluring aural tapestry.
Saygun’s music is accessible and intriguing. The 40-minute Symphony No.3, completed in 1961, is in four movements, the first three quite expansive. Martial and lyrical episodes link the first two movements, and the intense, soulful lyricism of the second (with echoes of Shostakovich-like loneliness) sustains threads of themes in an eloquent, deeply felt threnody. The spectral scherzo buzzes like insects, ostinatos remind once more of Shostakovich (the second scherzo of his Symphony No.8) and the trio seems to intimate the sounds of a bazaar (and a puckish bassoon mimics its counterpart in ‘Uranus’ from Holst’s The Planets). The short finale, lyrical and levitating, has its militaristic backdrop coming to the fore to close the symphony without ceremony.
The last of Saygun’s symphonies, No.5 (completed in 1984), is also in four movements and is over in a concise 23 minutes. Less vibrant and oriental than No.3, and more concerned with symphonic essentials, there is no lack of incident (Saygun employs a varied orchestral palette) or contrapuntal wizardry. In the second-placed scherzo (its beginning beautifully dovetailed out of the first movement), a drum tattoo reminds of Saygun’s Eastern origins, and the ‘tranquil’, rather evasive slow movement (one of the most attractive aspects of Saygun’s writing is his use of fleeting gestures) is disrupted by a savage outburst. The forceful, vibrant finale ultimately poses a riddle.
These two works are real discoveries. With confident and committed performances excellently recorded, and hoping that I haven’t done my usual trick with CPO cycles and come-in after the beginning, then I look forward to hearing Saygun’s other three symphonies. This first instalment is recommended with enthusiasm.