Fanfare, 10 / 2001
AKSES Violin Concerto (1969)
Cihat Aşkın (vn); Rengim Gökmen, cond; Radio-Philharmonie
Hannover des NDR *Cpo 999 799-2 (45:13)
Necil Kâzım Akses (1908-99) was born in a place not particularly associated with the creation of Western European-oriented violin concertos-İstanbul. The notes to this release tell met hat he is "one of the founders of Turkish polyphonic music." The vagaries of language, especially in translation, left me at sea in this case. Is he a composer in the tradition of Josquin, Palestrina, di Laso, and later of Bach? I think not. By the evidence at hand. Akses is a tonal composer who spreads his forthright powers of invention across epic canvases; his polyphony, though in abundance, is of a decidedly 20th-century variety. His music is Turkish, but not in a way that would satisfy my ethnomusicological elder daughter. That is to say, his folkloric influences are so throughly subsumed into his symphonic thought (sharpened during his studies at the Vienna Music Academy under Joseph Marx, and at the Prague Conservatory, where he was tutored by Josef Suk and Alois Haba, the fellow who experimented with quarter-tone music) that they can be discerned only through repeated listening. They subtly manifest themselves in an occasionally exotic turn of melody or harmony, and in the occasional deployment of ostinatos.
This is a fine violin concerto. Composed in 1969 in fulfillment of a commission by the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation, it will seem retrograde when held alongside similar efforts by Witold Lutoslawski. Kristof Penderecki, and Gustave Rhim, but this is a question merely of musical style, not of musical substance. Large-boned, Romantically inspired, and never shying away from the Grand (not grandiose) gesture, in its often subtle harmonic structure it bears a distant but palpable kinship to the Berg Concerto.
Characterized in the notes as a symphony with violin obbligato, it is nonetheless a technically demanding work for the generally constantly playing soloist, who has to muster the concentration and physical fortitude necessary to get through its 45-minute duration (two movements played without a pause). This is a live concert pickup in which Turkish violinist Cihat Aşkın miraculously delivers not merely a perfect account of its notes but one that plumbs its emotional depths and realizes its abundant fire. The Radio-Philharmonic Hannover des NDR under Rengim Gökmen first ably defines the concerto's agenda in its two-minute opening tutti, and never lets go. This is thickly scored music, and cpo's typically illuminating sound conveys both its mass impact and its subtlety splendiadly.
Given his rock-steady, unflappable, and passionate performance of this piece, I would like to hear what Cihat Aşkın could do with the Stravinsky. Barber, Shostakovich, or the Berg concertos. Come to think of it, I'd like to hear him in Rhim's concerto as well.