Kronos Quartet

Mugam Sayagi: Music of Franghiz Ali-Zadeh

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Some people would quickly run away from the music of someone who claims to admire the music of Berg, Crumb, and Cage. Franguiz Ali-Zadeh admires all of those composers and uses similar techniques in her composition, but she also finds inspiration in the music of her native Azerbaijan. With all of this, she creates especially evocative, picturesque works that invite listening more than once. Oasis, the opening work on this disc of her music featuring the Kronos Quartet, begins extremely quietly with water droplets, and then the quartet enters with desolate harmonics, depicting the desolation of the desert. Later in the piece, voices of those taking refuge in the oasis are heard. Ali-Zadeh's music is full of sounds beyond that of the traditionally played instruments of the string quartet and the piano, sounds that enhance and become part of the music. Sometimes it is techniques such as pizzicato, harmonics, col legno, or preparing or playing the strings of the piano; other times it is added instruments, as in Mugam Sayagi, or recorded sound, as in Oasis. The music itself is tightly constructed, but the scalar nature and the microtones of the Azerbaijani inflections give it a sense of freedom and improvisation, as in the title work and in the first movement of the Apsheron Quintet. Music for Piano is an example of how Ali-Zadeh likes to contrast moods, giving the listener just enough time to absorb and get a feel for how the music is describing a particular mood, before heading into the next one, more often than not, with abruptness. For that work, she prepared the piano by placing a bead necklace on the strings, creating a further contrast between the sound of a piano and that of an Azerbaijani tar (a lute-like instrument), between the modern and the ancient. Ali-Zadeh's music is captivating because of the mixture of sounds and textures, moods and pictures. The Kronos Quartet, as always, takes naturally to this new music, instinctively grasping what it is that makes it work, bringing it to life and convincing those who don't trust new music that there are things in it worth appreciating.

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