Fazil Say – Nicolas Altstaedt
Say, Debussy, Janáček, Shostakovich
Warner Classics, 2017
Under the title 4 Cities, Fazil Say and Nicolas Altstaedt record four cello sonatas written by four composers that sought inspiration from extremely different sources.
4 Cities is also the title of the first and most significant work, composed by Fazil Say himself and premiered in June 2012 during the City of London Festival by Nicolas Altstaedt and José Gallardo. This is the world premiere recording of the sonata, inspired by four Turkish cities – Sivas, Hopa, Ankara and Bodrum – dear to Say for his personal memories and unmistakably characterized by popular Turkish melodies.
The second work could not have been more different from 4 Cities as Claude Debussy wrote his Cello Sonata in D minor in 1915, two years before his death, but during a very productive summer, as shortly after this composition he wrote En blanc et noir, the Etudes and the Sonata for flute, viola and harp. The Sonata premiered in London on 4 March 1916.
The third sonata is Leos Janacek’s Pohádka, or Fairy Tale, a work that reveals the composer’s Russophilism as it is based on a poem written by Zhukovsky, who was considered the greatest Russian poet before Pushkin. This same poem, incidentally, inspired The Firebird to Stravinsky. Pohádka was composed in 1910 and was revised thrice, in 1912, 1913 and finally in 1923.
The last composition is the Cello Sonata in D minor that Shostakovich composed in 1934. This was Shostakovich’s first large-scale piece of chamber music, rather conservative in its four traditional movements, and seems to have been directly inspired by his sentimental life.
Say and Altstaedt are two excellent performers who play very well together. Their reciprocal communicativeness gives to 4 Cities exceptional energy and straightforward vigour, features that make this album absolutely irresistible. The sonata 4 Cities is a memorable, highly enjoyable work, where the characters of every city stand out unmistakably: the picture of Sivas is evocative and touching, so typically eastern in its warm colours; Hopa appears strong and blazing; the nostalgia of Ankara is disarming in its simplicity and frankness and at last Bodrum is depicted with lively and uncontrollable frenzy.
Debussy’s sonata is far more sombre and it seems that Say and Altstaedt have emphasized its disturbed and nervous character, especially in the Sérénade, while the next Final seems a resistance to the bad mood.
Pohádka and Janacek are miles away from Debussy and this sonata offers a glimpse on a completely new and enchanted world, particularly well introduced by the piano in the first movement (Con moto) and later its folkloristic melodies are extremely well rendered by both instruments. In the second movement (Con moto), they are so exquisitely beautiful that a sense of stillness invades the listener until the beginning of the charming Allegro.
Say and Altstaedt express the duality of Shostakovich’s Cello Sonata with doubtful perplexity in the Allegro non troppo, then with a sarcastic outburst (Allegro) and with hesitation again (Largo) and finally assuming a sardonic attitude (Allegro).
4 Cities is an eclectic and complex recording, but Say and Altstaedt make it extremely pleasing and interesting, to the point that every listener will be tempted to listen to it over and over again to rediscover once more its beautiful music.