Conductor: Howard Griffiths
Orchestra: Bilkent Symphony Orchestra
Performers: Tim Hugh (Cello), Mirjam Tschopp (Viola)
Year of recordings: 2006
SPARS Code: DDD
About the Composer: A colleague of Bartók, Ahmed Adnan Saygun (1907-1991) was one of Turkey’s most prominent composers.
About the Music: Bartók never focused extensively on penning cello-centric orchestral works, so I was eager to discover how a composer who shared Bartók’s nocturnal sensibilities would use the instrument to mould an intriguing concerto featuring several of the alluring sharp edges prevalent in the Hungarian’s most remarkable pieces. In addition to the 1987 Cello Concerto, this disc includes its counterpart for the viola, which was completed in 1967.
Cello Concerto: Impassioned yearnings emanate from the cello while the orchestra blooms forth with a number of lush, highly attractive flourishes in this mystifying concerto. I found the first movement to be the most appealing because of the manner in which it smoothly slides from brooding to high tension during the moments when Saygun isn’t providing fragrant radiance from the strings. The cello is in a rather dejected state in the second movement, but there is one episode where the percussion adroitly walks along with the soloist and amusingly drops to the floor as if in jest. In the third movement, the cello gains significant agility and almost appears to set aside most of the mournfulness that it has been shackled with since the beginning. There’s an interesting march-like sequence that develops for a few seconds after the first minute, but it quickly dissipates so that the cello can once again grasp the ether. It would have been interesting to see how Saygun would have continued the sequence if he hadn’t moved the orchestra in a much different direction. At the end of the concerto, the somber soloist quietly wanders away.
Viola Concerto: More frantic and less downcast in nature than the Cello Concerto, Saygun’s Viola Concerto doesn’t bear the same degree of emotional heft, but there are a couple of entertaining moments. One of the high-pitched passages near the end of the first movement sounds somewhat similar to a section from the middle of the final movement of Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 3. The soloist offers some very crisp, sharp strokes halfway through the third movement that are fairly effective.
Even though I found the Viola Concerto underwhelming when compared to the vibrancy of the Cello Concerto, you should still enthusiastically lay down the welcoming rug for this disc. Let’s hope that Saygun wrote a second cello concerto that Bilkent University researchers have yet to discover!