Violin Sonatas Nos 1 & 2; Cleopatra; Violin Concerto ‘1001 Nights in the Harem’
*Friedemann Eichhorn (violin), Fazil Say (piano); *German Radio Philharmonic Saarbrücken and Kaiserslautern/Christoph Eschenbach
Naxos 8.574085 69:40 mins
Anatolian-born Fazil Say is most familiar as a pianist who combines technical prowess with an exuberantly showy performing style. His music is correspondingly extrovert, blending western Romanticism and eastern-inspired rhythms and harmonies with a jazzy tunefulness in heart-on-sleeve lyrical appeal.
As this complete album of violin works attests, the results comprise on the one hand an exciting interweaving of cultures but, on the other, a raid on the store cupboard of musical clichés. Both extremes co-exist in these four works, which are in effect a throwback to and inverting of 19th-century orientalism. There’s no doubting the brilliance and commitment of the performers – who include Say himself in the two violin sonatas, respectively dated 1997 and 2019. The soloist throughout is Friedemann Eichhorn, whose violin alternately dances, skitters, pleads and beguiles with astonishing ease.
While youthful enthusiasm marks the earlier piece, it’s rage and loss that elevates above all others in the more recent work, subtitled ‘Mount Ida’ for the Turkish peak and written in protest at environmental destruction nearby. Cast in three movements, most affecting is the middle ‘Wounded Bird’ in which delicate whorls of sound stand in stark contrast to angry, Bartókian percussiveness in the outer two.
The virtuosic competition piece Cleopatra (2010) and the Violin Concerto 1001 Nights in the Harem (2007) offer depictions of women that are vivid but have uncomfortable undertones post-MeToo. For the latter, Eichhorn is ably joined by the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie and conductor Christoph Eschenbach.