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Peter Burwasser
Fanfare, September 2010

Fikret Amirov was a prolific 20th-century composer who hailed from the Republic of Azerbaijan. Although he was a Soviet citizen (he was born in 1922, and died in 1984), Amirov received all of his formal training in his native land, finishing his education at the Azerbaijan State Conservatory in 1948, after a fatefully brief interruption during the war. (I say fatefully, because countless other artistic careers were destroyed, or at best crippled by the cataclysms of that time.)

His music is dominated by Azerbaijan folk melodies, presented in a brash, at times bombastic manner. Think Ippolitov-Ivanov meets John Williams. According to the program notes by Anastasia Belina, all of this music is centered on an ancient folk form called mugam. These are typically played in trios, with a vocalist, and rely on improvisation and long rhapsodic melodic lines. The modality of the music gives it a distinctly Asian flavor. Belina also credits Amirov with being the first Azerbaijan composer to blend folk and classical styles, a practice that has since had many practitioners...It is fun to listen to, and unique in its certainly adds another chapter to the huge volume of classical music inspired by folk music.

David Hurwitz, May 2010

Let’s face it, Shur sounds suspiciously like the third movement of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, and if the opening of the Azerbaijan Capriccio isn’t Lohengrin orientalized (Act 3 prelude), then I don’t know what is. But who cares? The music is delightful, colorful, tuneful, and unabashed fun. And Fikret Amirov’s style, even in these works, did evolve, sort of. The third of his Symphonic Mugams—Gyulistan Bayati Shiraz—features interesting writing for piano and saxophone, and has a more concise form and less obviously 19th-century harmonic patina. Amirov also wrote symphonies, and it would be interesting to hear them.

The performances here are pretty much the best available. Leopold Stokowski introduced most of us to Amirov with his Everest recording of Kyurdi Ovshari, a couple of minutes quicker than this one. Of the two other recordings of this work (and some of the others), the one on Olympia is rather droopy, while Antonio de Almeida on ASV is aptly lively, but his Moscow Symphony isn’t as good an ensemble as the Russian Philharmonic. Dmitry Yablonsky (a scary picture of whom appears in the CD booklet), seems to get the tempos just right. He’s exciting in the quick bits and lusciously romantic in the big tunes. The engineering is also very good. Very enjoyable indeed.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2010

Born in 1922 in that part of the Soviet Union we know recognise as Azerbaijan, Fikret Amirov was one of the first composers to marry his native folk music into a classical symphonic concept. The accompanying booklet details the source of his inspiration based on free and highly improvisatory material, a mood we hear through all four works. Put this to the back of your mind and you will find four pieces in the shape of symphonic poems and couched in orchestrations familiar from the highly coloured scores of Rimsky-Korsakov. You could well imagine the opening work, Shur, being used as a ballet, dance rhythms being a major input into a score that includes melodies western ears would describe as ‘oriental’. Amirov must have been well acquainted with Khachaturian, his energetic Kyuradi Ovshari, so indebted that it could well have come from the famous composer. Gyulistan Bayati Shiraz was a much later work dating from 1971 and employs a piano as soloist, the music’s general texture initially cast in an aggressive modernism before returning to Amirov’s familiar style. The short Azerbaijan Capriccio, with its lazy seductive opening dance, ends a finely played disc, the conductor, Dmitry Yablonsky, well-versed in Azerbaijan music. Very punchy sound ideal for the music.

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