Lily Afshar

Un dia de Noviembre
Gozaar (Calligraphy No.5) [World Premiere]
Koyunbaba Op.19
Traditional Persian Song “Bird of Dawn”
Fantasia on “Bird of Dawn” [World Premiere]
Ince arr. Afshar
MKG Variations
Omar’s Fancy
El Sueno de la Razon Produce Monstruos; Quien Mas Rendido? (24 Caprichos de Goya, Op.195)
Invocation et Danse (Hommage a Manuel de Falla)
Sevilla (Suite Española, Op.47)

Lily Afshar (guitar)

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: 18 March, 2005
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Although born in Tehran, Lily Afshar studied in the US, where she is now Head of the Memphis University Guitar Course. This recital nevertheless had a distinct Middle-Eastern flavour, with many of the pieces not only influenced by Turkish and Persian music but written by Iranian composers. And because of the Moorish influence on Spanish culture (and by extension Latin America), pieces by Leo Brouwer, Rodrigo and Albéniz were seamlessly integrated into the programme.

Afshar’s fluent technique boasts a seamless legato, strong projection, rhythmic precision and a broad tonal palette, all tempered by a free, improvisatory style which suited much of the featured material. Cuban composer Leo Brouwer’s Un dia de Noviembre (A Day in November), written for a film by Humberto Solaz, is simple, tuneful and descriptive, and Afshar performed it in a clear and direct manner; the following Gozaar by Vali provided a perfect contrast, utilizing flowing Persian modal material punctuated by rich strummed chords (and here Afshar made use of the extra frets inserted into the fretboard of her guitar in order to play the quarter-tones required by the modes). Domeniconi’s Koyunbaba (meaning shepherd; also a bay in the Aegean), is different again: influenced by Turkish folk-music and using a C sharp minor tuning, this popular four-movement piece features lavishly ornamented melodies contrasted with virtuoso toccata-like passages. Here the playing was most impressive and necessitating a gear-change in the form of Afshar taking up a traditional Persian instrument, the seh-tar (a small gourd-like instrument with a long neck and four strings), to perform Neudavood’s Morgh-eh-Sahar (Bird of Dawn). This was a beautiful performance, the seh-tar resonating to strums and tremolo as a sinuous melody sang out over a drone. American Garry Eister’s Fantasia on a Traditional Persian Song for guitar takes up the thread of Neudavood’s exotic (to out ears!) soundworld and gives it a traveller’s gloss; Afshar performed it with the same ear for modal textures and flexible rhythms.

Following the interval came Kamran Ince’s dramatic MKG Variations (the initials refer to the original dedicatee) for solo cello, performed in Afshar’s own arrangement, and Dusan Bogdanovic’s Omar’s Fancy. Looking both to the music of Turkey and JS Bach, both pieces explore a range of moods which Ashfar used to summarise the guitar’s expressive capabilities and make way for the richer, more romantic world of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s El Sueno de la Razon Produce Monstruos (The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters) and Quien Mas Rendido’ (Who is the more Devoted?) from 24 Caprichos de Goya. Based on Goya’s etchings, the music has much in common with Granados’s Goyescas (for solo piano), both in style and sentiment, and therefore provided a link to the last programmed work of this recital, Albéniz’s Sevilla; but between these came Rodrigo’s homage to Falla, Invocation et Danse, a piece which features fiery flamenco-like scales, artificial harmonics and fast chord passages and which were despatched with abandon by Afshar. Alberto Gismonti’s Water and Wine provided a mellow encore.

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