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Behzad Abdi: Rumi

Mohammad Motamedi, Homayoun Shajarian, Sulmaz Badri, Sara Rezazadeh et al; Credo Chamber Choir; National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine/Vladimir Sirenko (Naxos)

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Behzad Abdi Rumi
Mohammad Motamedi, Homayoun Shajarian, Sulmaz Badri, Sara Rezazadeh, Maliheh Moradi, Mostafa Mahmoudi, Sadjad Pourghanad, Kayvan Farzin, Ali Yari, Reza Najafi, Ali Khodaei, Hossein Alishapour, Mohammadreza Sadeghi, Ali Najafi , Ehsan Nasiri, Mehdi Emami, Es’haq Anvar, Mehdi Javar, Amer Shadman; Credo Chamber Choir; National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine/Vladimir Sirenko
Naxos 8.660424-25   104:19 mins (2 discs)

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Thirteenth-century poet, mystic, theologian and scholar Jalal al-Din Rumi, otherwise known simply as Rumi, is now revered around the globe. His mysterious and compassionate writings frequently explored the power of music and poetry to make sense of a complex, conflict-stricken world, and this intriguing and timely collaboration between Iranian composer Behzad Abdi and librettist Behrouz Gharibpour celebrates the great poet’s life in a striking new operatic work.

The opera relates a series of encounters between Rumi and his closest companion and spiritual guide Shams Tabrizi, set against a backdrop of the violent Mongolian invasions of Central Asia. Abdi’s score is a fascinating blend of western classical music and dastgāh (the Iranian musical modal system). Some of the purely orchestral passages, often percussion-heavy, can at times feel uncomfortably reminiscent of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Orientalist turn, but this is perhaps largely due to the effect of non-Western modal patterns performed by a Western symphony orchestra. The vocal writing, strongly shaped by the Persian classical tradition, is Abdi’s strongest suit and this recording features a notably fine performance from Mohammad Motamedi who sings with outstanding richness and range as Rumi, while Homayoun Shajarian brings an urgent melancholy to the role of Shams. A copy of the libretto and its translation in the sleeve notes would have been invaluable, as the sparse synopsis provided can make following the drama challenging and we miss the nuance of Behrouz Gharibpour’s text (and its extensive quotations of Rumi’s poetry). This is nonetheless an exciting, enriching and highly commendable release.

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Kate Wakeling