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NeyNava and Song of Compassion

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Album Review

NeyNava and Song of Compassion are two pieces by leading Persian composer Hossein Alizadeh that have little in common except that 1. both are about half the length of a CD and 2. both are beautiful. NeyNava (written 1983) is a concerto for the ney, which is the breathy Middle Eastern flute, and a Western string orchestra. It represents a meeting of East and West, not only in the instruments but in the writing: traditional Middle Eastern music does not use harmony or counterpoint but instead relies on the very complex and usually improvised development of melodic figures for its interest. In NeyNava Alizadeh has attempted to work out an explicit harmony based on the intervals of those traditional Persian figures. The experiment is an undeniable success. While the strings sound at moments like a number of Western composers — Rimsky-Korsakoff, Vaughan Williams, and Shostakovich, to name a few — they do not so consistently resemble any single one of them as to be accused of being derivative. And the strings dovetail with the rich timbre of the ney to create a mood that is foreboding yet large-souled. While most of the piece is on the slow and dreamy side, it closes with a movement entitled "Sufi Dance" that is more sprightly and which weaves the fascinating texture of two neys together with bold gestures from the strings. With Song of Compassion (composed in 1991) we enter a completely different sound-world. Instead of the soothing sound of the ney against the familiar background of Western strings, we are assaulted with Persian lutes, zithers, fiddles, winds, and drums. An orchestra of such instruments sounds anything but sweet and smooth, and of course that's the beauty of it. Song of Compassion was written to commemorate the victims of the 1990 earthquake in northern Iran. It's not a go-quietly-into-the-night requiem, however, but a cry of desperation, of suffering, of compassion for that suffering, switching between impassioned vocalists throughout. The third movement, for example, "Depth of Catastrophe," starts with a heartbeat-like tattoo upon the drum and builds to the male singer performing a stylized scream. In the movement "Song of Compassion" we hear what sounds like a Western tympani and a Persian tombak drum accompanying a woman's wordless song of comfort. The subtitle of Song of Compassion is "Composed for Orchestra of Indigenous Instruments of Iran." The piece features Iranian instruments, like the double-reed sorna that are rarely heard in Persian classical music, as well as instruments borrowed from Iranian Azerbaijanis, like the dayeré frame drum. The variety of instruments provides something for the ear to chew on, offsetting the fact that the pace of the piece is consistently midtempo.

Biography

Born: 1951

Genre: World

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Hossein Alizadeh is one of Iran's leading classical composers and musicians. A virtuosic player of the six-stringed Persian tar, four-stringed Persian sehtar and eleven-stringed Azeri tar, Alizadeh has continued to extend the musical traditions of his homeland. In addition to composing orchestral pieces such as "Riders of the Plains of Hope," "Revolt," "Hey Nava," "Torkaman,"...
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NeyNava and Song of Compassion, Hossein Alizadeh
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