Monday, May 27, 2019

Fazil Say: Composer Less Impressive than Pianist

from the Web page for this recording

According to my records, Fazil Say has been off my radar since October of 2016, which is when I wrote an article about his Warner Classics release of all of the piano sonatas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. On that occasion, drawing upon the background material at my disposal, I referred to him as “pianist and composer.” About two months ago, Warner released his latest album, which consists entirely of the pianist playing works by the composer. The title of the new release is Troy Sonata, which is also the title of the longest composition to be performed.

That composition, which is Opus 78 in Say’s catalog, is not so much a sonata as it is a ten-movement suite that reflects on not only the Iliad, the ancient Greek epic poem attributed to Homer, but also a context that draws heavily on Say’s personal knowledge of the territory (“you gotta know the territory”). I have to say that, even if I do not personally “know the territory,” I found this music distressingly bland and tedious in the context of the many perspectives I have on Troy, thanks not only to the Homeric bards but also to Virgil and any number of later perspectives found in literature (including translations of source texts into English), drama, opera, and cinema. If composer Say wants to undertake works on this scale, he might want to learn a thing or two about how time passes and how that passing is rhetorically shaped from someone like Keith Jarrett.

The album also includes a four-part “concert rhapsody” entitled “The Moving Mansion” (Opus 72a). It then concludes with two short pieces from an ongoing project (cataloged as Opus 66) entitled Art of Piano. Taken in conjunction with Troy Sonata, listening to this album from beginning to end feels too much like an unnecessary slog. I have to say that I found this more than a little disconcerting given the positive impression that Say’s interpretation of Mozart made. The Troy Sonata left me wondering what composers other than Mozart Say tends to find significant.

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