Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Born in Cyprus, trained in London, the name Kemal Belevi is perhaps not well known but this disc from Duo Tandem is full of delightfully evocative pieces

Kemal Belevi Guitar duos; Duo Tandem; NAxos
Kemal Belevi Guitar duos; Duo Tandem; NAxos

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 12 August 2020 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Imaginatively written for two guitars, music by the Turkish-Cypriot born, London-trained composer

I have to confess that until I was sent this disc, I had never come across composer Kemal Belevi, who was born a Turkish Cypriot and trained in London as a guitarist and composer. This disc from Naxos features music for guitar duo by Kemal Belevi, performed by Duo Tandem. Kemal Belevi was born in Nicosia, he started playing guitar in his brother's band as a teenager but moved to London in 1972 to study music, eventually studying classical guitar and composition (with David McBride, a pupil of Benjamin Britten's) at the London College of Music.

When Belevi arrived in London (aged 18) to stay with his uncle, he had never come across the classical guitar and becomes entranced by the sight and sound of the instrument as played by Julian Bream and John Williams on his uncle's television. In the UK he initially studied for his O and A-levels, but by 1977 he is auditioning for the teachers course at the London College of Music, but when its director, composer William Lloyd Webber (1914-1982) hears Belevi, he immediately suggests Belevi go on the performers course, and another successful audition gets Belevi a scholarship. 

As a composer, Belevi's music extends well beyond the solo guitar, and he has written a number of guitar concertos as well as other orchestral works. As a performer, Belevi has produced discs of his own music but on this disc the guitar duo, Duo Tandem performs his music for guitar duo.

Duo Tandem (Necati Emirzade, Mark Anderson)
Duo Tandem (Necati Emirzade, Mark Anderson)
Duo Tandem features London-based, Necati Emirzade and Chicago-based Mark Anderson. They formed the duo in 2012 whilst studying at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and much of their collaboration is technology-enabled, and they often only meet to perform and record. Guitar Duos of Kemal Belevi is their third disc.

We begin with the four delightful Cyprian Rhapsodies, where Belevi uses a variety of guitar textures and the flexibility of two guitarists, to evoke different aspects of Mediterranean rhythms. The rhapsodies were originally written for orchestra, and Belevi made the arrangement for two guitars deliberately to extend the repertoire of music for this combination, and a number of other works on the disc are arrangements. 

Kemal Belevi (Photo Cyprus Mail)
Kemal Belevi (Photo Cyprus Mail)
Belevi's Suite Chypre was also originally written for a different combination of instruments. In 2001, Belevi was at a guitar festival in France and heard a guitar ensemble performing with cello, and was struck by the combination. The resulting suite, for cello and guitar, the first movement 'Lapta' referring to a village in the Kyrenia mountains, the second 'Elegie' dedicated to the composer's mother who died in 1959, and the third 'Ciftetelli' named after a popular Turkish dance.

Three Fragments was written in 1997 in Istanbul, and whilst the middle one is quite serious the composer sees the outer movements as 'fun' pieces. Turkish Suite, from 1999, was also written whilst the composer was living in Istanbul, and the name partly comes from the final movement which uses a well known Turkish mode. The music here is far more consciously modern, and the folk-elements are less to the fore.

Belevi's delightful music is evocative of the Eastern Mediterranean. Though he writes using Western classical techniques, many of his modes and rhythms are based on the folk music of Greece, Turkey and the Middle East. Melodies are often evocatively seductive, and at first the music can veer a little close to the holiday souvenir. But look beneath the surface, and this music is carefully and skilfully crafted, and whether writing for guitar duo or arranging for it Belevi shows himself to be able to use the full range of possibilities of the two instruments. 

The music by Kemal Belevi deserves to be better known, and listening to this disc I rather wondered what his other compositions were like.

Kemal Belevi (born 1954) - Cyprian Rhapsodies (2011/2017)
Kemal Belevi - Romance (1999/2018)
Kemal Belevi - Suite Chypre (2001/2017)
Kemal Belevi - Three Fragments (1997)
Kemal Belevi - Turkish Suite (1999)
Kemal Belevi - Vals No. 1 (1999/2017)
Kemal Belevi - Vals No. 2 (1985/2017)
Duo Tandem (Necati Emirzade, Mark Anderson)
Recorded 13-16 March 2019, Holy Trinity Church, Kensington, London
NAXOS 8.574081 [62.11]

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  • 2000 years of history: guitarist Xuefei Yang on exploring the music of her homeland on her new disc Sketches of China, on DECCA - interview
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  • In the tavern of sweet songs: settings of classical Persian poetry in Edward Fitzgerald's English versions by contemporary composer David Lewiston Sharpe - Cd review
  • The Prison: conductor James Blachly on how an American conductor & orchestra finally brought Ethel Smyth's late masterwork to disc - interview
  • Towards German romantic opera: Carl Maria von Weber's struggle to create modern German opera - feature article
  • Live music returns: Opera Holland Park's uplifting evening of operatic arias from an impressive line-up of performers - concert review
  • Creating new opera under lockdown: I chat to composer Alex Woolf about A Feast in the Time of Plague, his new opera with Sir David Pountney to be premiered by Grange Park Opera - interview
  • 'Home

 

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