About this Recording
GP688 - KAZHLAEV, M.: Piano Music - Romantic Sonatina / Dagestan Album / 6 Preludes / Picture Pieces (Chisato Kusunoki)
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Murad Kazhlaev (b. 1931)
Piano Music

 

Murad Magomedovich Kazhlaev was born in Baku, Azerbaijan, in January 1931, the son of an ENT specialist. He studied at the Azerbaijan State Conservatory, initially in the junior school (1938–49) and then in the senior faculty (1950–55), graduating from the composition class of Boris Zeidman (1908–81), a Leningrad student of Maximilian Steinberg (Rimsky-Korsakov’s son-in-law), the teacher of Shostakovich and Shaporin. He worked additionally with the Dagestani pioneer Gotfrid Hasanov and pursued conducting under Niyazi (Zulfigar oğlu Tagizade Hajibeyov, 1912–84), for nearly fifty years the iconic music director of the Azerbaijan State Symphony Orchestra. Kazhlaev’s ethnicity is Lak, one of the tribal peoples of Dagestan. Predominantly Islamic, Dagestan (literally ‘mountain land’, ‘the country of the mountains’, after the Turkish-Persian) is the largest of the North Caucasian autonomies, bound seaward by the Caspian (to the east) and landward (north-south) by Kalmykia, Chechnya, Georgia and Azerbaijan (the former two, like Dagestan, federal subjects of the Russian Federation). Befitting its geography and history, it’s a country rich in folk art, the remote, scarcely lit villages of its gullied terrain home to a variety of viscerally ornate dances, songs and bardic tales, diverse in style, beauty and ancestral resonance.

A skilled pianist (he knew Richter, a patient of his father’s, frequently driving him around old Baku), Kazhlaev settled in Makhachkala, Dagestan’s fortress capital, in 1955. Here he taught theory, cofounded the Dagestan Composers’ Union (having been elected to the USSR Composers’ Union in 1954, while still a student), and directed the Dagestan Radio Symphony Orchestra (1957–63). Recipient of the Glinka State Prize (1970) and People’s Artist of the USSR (1981), he moved to Moscow in January 1989, taking up an eighteen-year appointment as artistic director and conductor of the prestigious Academic Grand Concert Orchestra of State Radio and Television (latterly the Yuri Silantyev Academic Grand Concert Orchestra), Russia’s flagship popular music, big band, variety and and jazz outfit but with a programming policy embracing also classicoromantic repertory and contemporary premieres. In 1993 he was appointed professor of composition at the State Rachmaninov Conservatoire, Rostov-on-Don. In January 2016, on the occasion of his 85th birthday, he was created an Honoured Artist of Dagestan.

Complying with, surviving, a political system from Stalin through perestroika to Putin, Kazhlaev was one of the leading Soviet jazz/crossover men of his time, along with, among others, Utyosov, Dunayevsky, Tsfasman (a Moscow student of Blumenfeld), Babajanian and Babayev (an admirer of Bill Evans)—as well as, to a lesser extent, Shostakovich. The story of jazz in 20th century Russia is a vexed one. In 1929 it was banned briefly as ‘bourgeois decadence’. Between 1932–38 the Tsfasman band (modelled on Paul Whiteman) toured the republics, showcasing Rhapsody in Blue. During the war years, influenced by contact with the Allies, the medium burgeoned in popularity. Even the notorious NKVD trumped a combo of their own. Zhdanov’s 1948 purges, however, and the early Cold War years generally, brought oppression, New World jazz, in the ideological jargon of the day, being perceived as an imperialist, morally depraved, corrupting evil. Even the saxophone was banned. In 1962 Khrennikov conceded that while regional variants were fine (‘Rumanian’, ‘Hungarian’, ‘in time Soviet-style’), the state continued to remain ‘opposed to the “Americanised” form’. In March the following year Khruschev (he who’d walked out of a Benny Goodman gig) dismissed ‘the enthusiasm for jazz and jazz music’ as ‘abnormal’, giving one ‘a feeling of nausea’. With his removal from office in October 1965 the medium found a more tolerant, less ‘petrified’, climate—though only in the later cultural thirst, enquiry and risk of the underground/samizdat movement did it begin to evolve and transcend boundaries with progressive intent.

Kazhlaev remembers his formative jazz years affectionately. Rattling the authorities, waving the dissident flag, it seems, he left to others. ‘I spent my childhood in Baku, then an extremely music-loving, cosmopolitan city. In the post-war period we listened to Western broadcasting stations [including Voice of America, guaranteeing grass-roots trans-Atlantic immersion] using short-wave radio receivers which had been returned to us. We heard captivating, divine music, we sang it to our friends, we improvised on the tunes. We were astonished at the artistry of Dizzy Gillespie, Glenn Miller, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington [years later to take up Kazhlaev’s 1964 African Concerto], Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, George James, Woody Herman. We imitated and borrowed from them, but we also tried to say something new that was ours. In Baku a number of jazz groups emerged in which we performed. There was the famous big band of the saxophonist Parviz Rustambeyov [the so-called “Russian Benny Goodman”]. In the fishermen’s club where they used to rehearse we spent most of our free time after classes recording our first compositions using old X-ray film. Jazz, like the not unrelated music and rhythms of my homeland and the Caucasus, was deeply entrenched in my soul. But a jazz composer having no performer is like a horseman having no horse. Hearing Michel Legrand’s orchestra in Moscow in 1957, and meeting him, determined the fate of my passion. In Moscow I found jazzmen who became my partners and friends for life. They made my childhood dreams come true. We were all so young and active, we played music, we made records twenty-four hours a day.’

As a cosseted member of the ‘monastery’ that was the Soviet Composers’ Union—a cooperative where political nouse, personal endeavour, bureaucratic compliance or lending a hand to help out a colleague was all in a day’s work—Kazhlaev enjoyed a charmed life. ‘I was given a stateprovided dacha outside Moscow so I could focus on my creative work. There’d be a grand piano, a fireplace, even a cleaning lady, and if I ever needed to extend my stay to finish off a commissioned piece it was never a problem. I’d compose at the piano in the mornings. And in the evenings I’d go to the cinema. All of us composers, most importantly, were friends, we shared our opinions, we gave each other advice. One January evening we went over to Babajanian’s dacha, it was his birthday. He said “Look, I’ve written this new song, Do not rush [Ne speshi], but at one point the harmony’s not quite right …” Well, you know, I’m the master of harmony! So I said “hang on, I’ll give you a harmony you’ll die for!” I played him my solution which he thought was a miracle. So the passage was set to my version. Occasionally we had the pleasure of Shostakovich as a guest. Since he was First Secretary of the [RSFSR] Composers’ Union, we saw him fairly often. Once we were together in Armenia at our dacha in Dilijan. My wife Valida [Islamzadeh] made pilav [rice] which he was crazy about! Nervous, withdrawn into his music, he wasn’t very sociable. Whenever foreign composers came to visit, they were always astonished by the ideal conditions that artists in the USSR were offered’ (interview, summer 2015).

Kazhlaev’s catalogue ranges from nationalist orchestral works to circus numbers, ballet to operetta, musical to revue commissions to songs and romances—all overtly harmonic, tuneful and vibrantly imagined. His jazz, big band, light music and film output, getting on for two hundred scores, affirms the studio professional working against the clock. Teeming with pigment, atmosphere and show-stopping numbers, the spectacularly orchestrated 1968 Dagestani ballet Gorynka (The Mountain Girl), produced at the Kirov (Mariinsky Theatre) with Barïshnikov, compares more than favourably with Khachaturian’s wartime Gayane: a veritable banquet of lyric chorus and percussive attack, nasal reeds and Caucasian trumpet, with shards of Rachmaninov and Sacre adding black powder to the cocktail.

The music on this album covers a period from 1952 to 1973. The Romantic Sonatina (1952), an emotionally vernal student outing, oscillates tritonically between A and E flat (middle movement) and essays a pianistic style fusing the linear with the vertical, power chording with brilliant non legato finger-work (finale). Whether or not the long/short leitmotif of the first movement and Rachmaninov’s application of the same pattern/contour in the Second and Third Concertos source the same common ground is unclear.

Vocally aware, physically dynamic, decorously sonorous, based on material collected by the composer during various trips around the Caucasus, the Dagestan Album (1973) draws on folk themes from five of the country’s ethnic groups: Avar, Lak, Dargin, Lezgin, Kumyk. ‘You would never confuse these beautiful one-off melodies with anything else in the world,’ Kazhlaev maintains in his introductory note. ‘Precise rhythms almost always accompany these tunes, whatever their mood.’ (1) ‘Song of the Journey’ (Avar)—(2) ‘Ancient Song’ (Lak), ‘If only this world…’ (Avar). (3) ‘Mauzer’ [name of the beloved] (Lak, from Gorynka)—(4) ‘Ancient Motif’, ‘That’s terrific’ (Lak). (5) ‘Our Love’ (Dargin)—(6) ‘Komsomolka’ [member of the Soviet Youth Association] (Dargin). (7) ‘Oh my Dilbiar’ (Lezgin)—(8) ‘High Mountains’ (Lezgin). (9) ‘Come friend…’, ‘Dance, fellow!’ (Kumyk)—(10) ‘Sad Motif’ (Kumyk).

Republished in Moscow in 2014, the Six Preludes date from 1956 (1–3) and 1961 (4–6). The first three, climaxing in a zurna-suggestive lezginka-toccata, used to be in Lazar Berman’s repertory. Played without a break, the second three—Creation, Cry, Protest—address the instrument in an expressively beautiful way.

Joyous, sad impressions of younger years, the nine Picture Pieces (1953–71, rev. 2010) show a supremely confident Khazlaev, man of the people, relaxing at the keyboard in all manner of moods—from the luxuriant to the lean … the expressively laid-back to knife-edge pointing … artful hotel bar to music theatre to capricious tongue-in-cheek pastiche and appropriation … romantic passion to basaltic climaxes to indulgently sensuous ‘added note’ jazzing. The breezy da capo structured G major second movement, Welcome Overture (arranged for orchestra in 1961), he dedicated to the celebrated Avar poet of future Gorynka association, Rasul Gamzatov (1923–2003).

The present recording, prepared under the composer’s guidance in Moscow and Makhachkala, incorporates updated changes to the printed texts. ‘Kazhlaev and I have become close friends, and in learning these works I drew much inspiration from feeling his warm, generous, humane personality’ (Chisato Kusunoki).

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