Music from Romania, Hungary and Old Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) took the spotlight along with the Moldovan pan-flute artist Marin Gheras for a sparkling program of folkloric-flavored music with the İstanbul State Symphony Orchestra (İDSO) on Jan. 29 at the Lütfi Kırdar Concert Hall.
Conducted by Ender Sakpınar, the orchestra blazed through colorful works by Dvorák, Bartok, Dinicu, Mustea, Dubosarsky, Erkin and one surprise at the end of the program’s first half.
The orchestra opened with the ever-popular “Köçekçe” by Ulvi Cemal Erkin, which uses melodies and makams from Turkish classical and folk music. Although almost every orchestra in Turkey plays this piece, it never seems to wear thin because each time I hear it, I become aware of things I didn’t hear before. This time, I caught a lovely bassoon solo and a mesmerizing flute line woven into the fabric. The prominent clarinet solos, this evening played with burnished tone by Cevdet Tokkuşoğlu, gave the signature Turkish sound throughout.
Next, Gheras and his Romanian-style pan flute (curved instead of the straight line of bamboo pipes from other countries) charmed us with several selections, beginning with Bela Bartok’s “Romanian Folk Dances,” arranged for his instrument and string orchestra (from the original for piano or violin-piano duo). The entrancing combination of pan flute and strings in these particular pieces was so atmospheric that I actually prefer this version to the original. Gheras then impressed with his technical virtuosity in “Vivaldiana,” a pastiche of concerto material taken from Antonio Vivaldi’s scores and arranged by B. Dubosarsky. Gheras’ speedy scales, trills and frills in the Baroque manner were simply dazzling.
“Hora Dragostei” by G. Mustea and “The Lark” by Grigoraş Dinicu not only displayed Gheras’ versatility at playing a variety of styles, but the lush orchestrations, especially in the Mustea piece, recalled an older romantic age in Eastern European salons. The Dinicu was a swirling circus that added amusing bird calls and whimsical whistles for comic effect.
His entertaining encore was an unusual addition to a symphony program: a medley of songs from Ennio Morricone’s film score for “Once Upon a Time in America.” Employing rich orchestrations, this was a mix of sorrowful ballads, wedding band music, cocktail hour tunes and a solo improvisation of only a few notes -- but Gheras packed a lot of emotion into those few. His artistry goes way beyond the obvious novelty of his instrument; he plays it like a gifted singer would express every sentiment of the human heart.
Sakpınar then led the orchestra in seven of Antonin Dvorák’s 16 “Slavonic Dances” with great sweep and style. He drew out a warm sound throughout his energized tempos, although occasionally the violins weren’t up to the challenge. Dvorák was himself a violist, so he penned some wonderful viola section moments, which I would have preferred Sakpınar to have highlighted. The final dance, the “Furiant,” was a glorious and spunky wrap-up to the whole suite of joyous dance styles from Bohemia’s yesteryear.
One of the unique aspects of Dvorák’s orchestral writing is the way he used a little-appreciated member of the percussion section: the triangle. The composer used it frequently to provide a distinct color and a kind of sparkle to the phrase. In his music, it never evokes a marching band or television commercials. The musician that plays the triangle in Dvorák’s music is a busy player; on this evening, Ayşegül Güvenç deserved her own solo bow.
Borusan Quartet premieres new works
I was personally thrilled to see a full house of eager listeners for the three world premieres by three composers on Jan. 23 at the Süreyya Opera. The Borusan Quartet (violinists Esen Kıvrak and Olgu Kızılay, violist Efdal Altun and cellist Çağ Erçağ) selected new works written for string quartet by Oğuzhan Balcı, Turgay Erdener and Turgut Pöğün.
Erdener’s “String Quartet No. 1” began its three movements with a chant-like melody for the cello, surrounded by spooky effects. It seemed to be without regular meters, giving it a migratory nature. The second section used the viola for its wandering voice in a flowing texture. The third movement continued the journey using pizzicato for much of the mostly lovely setting. In general, I didn’t find it had much to say, though, and the ending felt obligatory, like a period at the end of a very long sentence.
Pöğün’s “Musics 3” broke out of the movement-based format and used a patchwork quilt approach, more or less. His quaint 18th-century style courtly dance was used as a reference point that kept returning, then wandered back and forth among different styles, including jazz, minimalism, Baroque, pointillism, tango, Elliot Carter, Astor Piazzolla and solo improvisation. While the premise was clever, it was a composition in search of an ending that made sense for all of it.
Balcı’s “Borusan Quartet” imparted the most striking impression of the evening. Its electrical charge throughout captured attention and created curiosity about what would happen next. Its evocative and supremely rhythmic score dabbled occasionally in references to chorales, fugues, atonality, sweetly melodic, romantic, modal scales and jazz. Some sections required Black Sea-style foot-stamping. The cello part, particularly, was demanding and repetitious but nevertheless exciting because of its directional energy; Erçağ’s performance of it was exceptional throughout. All three movements seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of internal combustion that, in part, held the composition together. Borusan’s extraordinary performance, loaded with both raw abandon and exquisite precision, was indeed memorable. And Balcı’s opus is destined to become a modern classic of the genre.
Since all the players and composers were male, this event had a somewhat exclusionary feeling to it. I hope next time worthy compositions by women will be considered.