Quatuor Danel

Saygun: Complete String Quartets

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Saygun: Complete String Quartets Review

by Blair Sanderson

From the 1930s until his death in 1991, Ahmed Adnan Saygun was a significant figure in modern Turkish music. His four string quartets are among his best-known compositions in the West, and they are presented with extraordinary vitality and emotional depth on this 2006 double-disc by the Danel Quartet. Aesthetically, Saygun looked to the ideas and attitudes of Europe, partly in sympathy with Kemal Atatürk's efforts to modernize the culture of the young Republic of Turkey, but also because of his own cosmopolitan inclinations; yet in his practice, Saygun adapted peasant songs and traditional dances as the raw material for his sophisticated chamber music. As a result of his folkloric borrowings, his string quartets strongly resemble Bartók's masterpieces in the genre, particularly for their haunting melodies, bitingly dissonant counterpoint, propulsive rhythms, and irregular meters. However, Saygun's works are not on a par with Bartók's in artistry or originality, and though the music has a seriousness that may recommend it to devotees of modern chamber music, the four essays here are a mixed lot. The String Quartet No. 1, Op. 27 (1947), and the String Quartet No. 2, Op. 35 (1958), are earnest attempts at finding a voice, but they are not fully developed, either as personal statements or cogent musical forms; and the String Quartet No. 4, Op. 77 (1990), is a fragment that offers some worthwhile music, though it feels too directionless and developmentally stymied. The String Quartet No. 3, Op. 43 (1966), is Saygun's finest effort, not only for its virile confidence, vibrant energy, and striking clarity, but also in its surprising array of extended techniques and sparkling colors. Of the four, only this work sustains interest from beginning to end and leaves the listener feeling completely satisfied with the experience. By itself, the String Quartet No. 3 is worth the price of the whole set. CPO's sound is excellent, especially in the separation of the parts and in capturing the Danel Quartet's subtlest nuances of dynamics and tone.

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