Wednesday 29 May 2019

Sheherazade: a work which spans both Persian and Western classical music

Alireza Mashayekhi - Sheherazade - Paraty
Alireza Mashayekhi Sheherazade; Layla Ramezan, Djamchid Chemirani, Keyvan Chemirani; Paraty
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 25 May 2019 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
Something of a surprise, a late 20th century Iranian piano work which spans both Persian and Western classical music

This disc is Iranian pianist Layla Ramezan second volume of her exploration of 100 years of Iranian piano music on Paraty records. There is a single work on the disc, Sheherazade by Alireza Mashayekhi (born 1966). It is a work which exists in different versions and is here presented with narrations from Djamchid Chemirani (himself a zarb virtuoso), and improvisations on zarb and santur by Keyvan Chemirani.

Alireza Mashayekhi studied in Vienna with Hanns Jelenik, and Utrecht. His work Sheherazade is the last of group of works he wrote exploring the borders between Persian culture and Western classical music. Sheherazade is in nine sections, with substanial narrations from Djamchid Chemirani in Persian telling the story of  Sheherazade, re-imagined by Mashayekhi. The work was premiered in Tehran in 1998 by pianist Farmimah Qavam-Sadri.

Mashayekhi's piano writing is strong and characterful, and most definitely 20th century with a robust feel to it. Mashayekhi's music has a distinctive and vibrant voice, which strikes quite an interesting note and the CD booklet talks about the music reaching the threshold of atonality. And there are a number of moments when we seem a long way from even the idea of Persian music, yet there are also clearly Persian influenced moments too. The result is a fascinating mix, yet a powerfully expressive one.

The first piano travelled to Persia as a gift from Napoleon III, and by 1860 Iran's first modern university had a division devoted to teaching military music and as the teachers were often from Western Europe then the piano was included. But it wasn't until 1934 that regular teaching of Western classical music started with the creation of the first national conservatory of classical music. By the 1960s there was wider access to the piano in the middle class, it wasn't just an elite one. All this changed in 1979, when the emphasis went back on Iranian traditional music and instruments, though since  2000 this is again changing.

It might seem surprising that there can be a history of Iranian piano music, but that is because of our ignorance. It is perhaps the style of Mashayekhi's response to his traditional story that is really surprising and exciting as this is a work which has a remarkable strength and distinctive character.

Layla Ramezan started studying in Tehran, then moved to Paris to study at the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris 'Alfred Cortot', then the Conservatoire National de Saint-Maur des Fosses, and Lin Lausanne.

Whilst Djamchid Chemirani is a beautiful story teller, and it is lovely trying to follow the story from the printed text, frankly, I will more often listen to this disc by programming out the narration. But certainly, Keyvan Chermirani's atmospheric contributions add to the atmosphere.

This is one of those works which come as quite a surprise making your realise that the borders of Western classical music are quite wide

Alireza Mashayekhi (born 1966) -  Sheherazade
Layla Ramezan (piano)
Djamchid Chemirani (narration)
Keyvan Chemirani (zarb & santur)
Recorded October 2018. Theatre Les Tilleuls
PARATY 519240 1CD
Available from Amazon.

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