The piano music of Ahmet Saygun achieves the rare distinction of appealing equally to the intellect and the emotions. The Turkish composer, one of the most important and influential in his country’s history, combined Western and Turkish musical elements to produce fresh, compelling and original sounds. He could probably be described as a neoclassicist, but one who ventured often and effectively into an accessible modernism. There is perhaps no clearer expression of his aesthetic than in his utterly beguiling solo piano music. The five works on this Naxos disc encompass a wide chronological, stylistic and emotional span. “From Anatolia,” written in 1945, is a relatively brief three-movement piece that strongly evokes the composer’s Turkish roots, yet its impressionistic, otherworldly atmosphere transcends temporal associations. A similar sense of simplicity and poignancy is conjured in “Inci’s Book.” Most of the movements in this piece are a minute or less in length, and their brevity only enhances their gossamer charm. Also included are two longer suites based on traditional Turkish rhythms—“12 Preludes on Aksak Rhythms” and “10 Sketches on Aksak Rhythms.” These sound utterly contemporary with their lyrical yet angular melodies, halting rhythmic progression and vibrant percussive effects. Yet the structural innovations never overpower the mesmeric mood and emotional coloration. Last and certainly not least is the composer’s 1938 “Sonatina,” which features a strong spiritual flavor and engaging tempo changes. Although cast in a more traditional form, it nevertheless hints at the more adventuresome direction Saygun would eventually take. The Turkish pianist Zeynep Ucbasaran proves herself a capable and sensitive interpreter of Saygun’s music. Her touch and tone are faultless, and her performance elicits all of the clarity, insight and emotion of these wonderful pieces.
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