Media reports are constantly telling us the Compact Disc is dead. This may be true in some markets. For the Classical music listener it’s still very much alive. Artist driven labels, small independent labels, specialist distributors and a dwindling clutch of dedicated high street music shops are go to places for a range of music – from the very earliest to cutting edge contemporary – unthinkable during the days when the major record labels called the shots. Most of this music will never find its way into concerts, hence the cheap to produce Compact Disc is the way to hear and, more importantly, discover untold musical riches.
Recently a disc has found its way into my player that has done just that. Its composer, Kara Karayev (1918-1982) certainly didn’t feature on my musical radar, and probably on not too many others. Born in Azerbaijan, Karayev studied with Shostakovich, who looked upon him as one of his brightest students. Karayev proceeded to a career that encompassed everything from children’s music to symphonies, film scores and chamber works.
Suites from two of his ballets are presented on a Naxos release – The Seven Beauties (1953) and The Path of Thunder (1958). The Seven Beauties is based on a poem written in 1197 concerning Shah Bachram Gur and his seven wives who lived in seven pavilions. Each is represented in the suite with music reflecting their origin that includes – Indian, Byzantine, Khorezmian and Slavonic. Like Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu, Karayev uses the piano, in his ballet, as part of the orchestra and not as a solo instrument.
In The Path of Thunder, Karayev chose the controversial subject of a mixed race love affair in apartheid South Africa. Musically Karayev uses African rhythms and instruments, of which he made an extensive study. The highlight of Karayev’s ballet is the flatly named Scene and Duet (Track 17), which builds to a tremendous climax that will have you reaching for the repeat button.
Throughout, I kept noting influences or references to other composers. Well, that’s great, but Karayev is very much his own composer. His music is coloured by the world in which he lived, and has a sweeping energy that it’s impossible not to get caught up in. It helps that the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra play absolutely magnificently under the inspired conducting of Dmitry Yablonsky. Audio enthusiasts can be assured that the recording, engineered by Mike Clements, in London’s Blackheath Concert Halls will give their systems quite a work-out.
Since this is a Naxos release, you can acquire this disc, for the price of a coffee and muffin in your local coffee shop, which is probably the only way you will ever get to hear this wonderful music!