Dmitry Yablonsky / Russian Philharmonic Orchestra

Fikret Amirov: Shur

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In Azeri music, the Mugam is both a scale and a discipline of performance, related to the Arabic Maqam, though it differs in certain essential details. Fikret Amirov was one the great Azeri composers of the Soviet period, converting the traditional Mugam -- regarded by UNESCO as "oral and intangible -- into tangible orchestral music. It can be described as mildly modern in effect, though one wonders how much of that would be the result of the exotic scales Amirov employs; nevertheless it is brilliantly scored in a manner reminiscent of Rimsky-Korsakov. Conductor Dmitry Yablonsky leads the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra in Naxos' Fikret Amirov: Shur, and it contains all three of Amirov's orchestra Mugams -- Shur (1948), Kürdo Ovshari (1948), and Gyulistan Bayati Shiraz (1971) -- along with a related work, Azerbaijan Capriccio (1961). The first two works made Amirov's reputation when they were first heard at a concert in Baku in 1948, and Gyulistan Bayati Shiraz likewise has been a favorite of Azeri audiences from the very start. This is not owing to an expected picture postcard perspective on traditional themes -- certainly the Soviet era was crowded with that sort of thing -- Amirov's music is serious minded, dynamic, rich in color, and immediately appealing. Naxos' recording is of the average; it is full and detailed though a little quiet and fuzzy at the edges; nevertheless, anyone who likes Hovhaness or orchestral music with a strong Middle Eastern flavor should enjoy this and Yablonsky does a nice job of keeping the band crisp and focused, yet allowing for some idiomatic and spontaneous flourishes along the way.

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