Invitation to the Seraglio
There was I, in a review of a CD called ‘East Meets West’ (Warner Classics, 8/04), citing Mozart’s flirtation with Turkish music as an example of how the classical/world music crossover fashion was nothing new, when along came these CDs in the next post. Very enjoyable they are, too.
What intrigues me is how European most of the compositions by Turkish musicians sound. There could be several reasons for this: the effect of cultural colonisation (relatively unlikely, as the Ottomans were hardly submissive victims of European expansionism); political astuteness (showing that Ottoman culture could provide effective dance, military and salon music on European terms); or mere fashion, a taste for the exotic Occident. The last of these was certainly a factor, with the Sultan importing Italian music for his army bands in the 1830s. As for traffic in the opposite direction, it was often restricted to the use of janizary percussion.
It is, then, not easy to distinguish pieces written by Europeans like Guatelli and Donizetti from those by Turks such as Sultan Abdulaziz. Ida (Saide) muddies the waters further by being a Hungarian educated in Vienna and ‘naturalised’ as a Turk. Emre Araci and the LAOCM tackle all-comers with lightfooted ease, never letting us forget that much of this was music for movement. They produce a bright, precise, attractive sound, and are well served by the recording, which is transparent and detailed. This is the sort of thing that gets light music a good name.
On ‘Dream of the Orient’ we still get some agile Turkish-tinged orchestral pieces written by European composers, including the aforementioned Wolfie, but Concerto Köln is joined by Sarband, a seven-piece group playing pukka janizary and other ‘ethnic’ instruments. They nicely beef up the percussion on the orchestral pieces and have a few outings in their own right. On Turkish pieces, attributed or traditional, the effect is frequently magical, not least on the ravishing Izia Semaisi and Son yürük sema’I.
If you’re one of those people thinking about Christmas presents already, you might want to pop out and buy these albums now.