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Ionarts-at-Large: Spanish and Turkish Flavors

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The Art of the Pepe Romero,

Pepe Romero, once the poster boy of the Spanish Guitar, happened to be in Italy—so he asked his long time promoter in Munich if he would like to have him perform one gig north of the Alps. Wolf Siegel, half-way into retirement, agreed and managed to fill the all-wood auditorium of the Music Conservatory with some 500 guitar enthusiasts to whom Pepe Romero could and can do no wrong. Certainly not in bringing a veritable greatest-hits program of Albéniz and Tárrega—performed in memory of his father and the two composers’ passing 100 years ago (in 2009).

The technical skill is ever impressive with Romero who turned 66 on March 8th, just ten days earlier, and a gratuitous showpiece like Tárrega’s Gran Jota with its endless flageolet passages and left hand melodies that are ‘tapped’ out of the soundboard, still come off impressively. But the zest of his early recordings—his first made at the age of 14—has lessened a bit. It makes for exciting and entertaining listening—“Asturias”, “Granada”, “Córdoba” all being ‘clap-along’-ready bits, but its helps to be part of the subculture of Spanish guitar (or classical guitar, which is nearly synonymous, except for the early music guitarists). For the non-initiated, such an evening gets longer and longer toward the end, because most of the pieces have, under the weight of their popularity, turned into pure cliché. Before the mind’s eye, stereotypical “Spanish” scenes from color-saturated Hollywood films merge into one confused and blurry blend.

Turkish, not Spanish, was the declared flavor of the Munich Radio Orchestra’s concert on March 10th, conducted by Naci Özgüç.The over-caffeinated announcer, German-Turkish actress Renan Pemikran who pronounces the word “Deutsch” with an excitement no German has felt comfortable to do in over 60 years, led through the concert with charming, spitfire hyperbole, grand gestures, and a touch of self-importance. After the competent-routine performance of Beethoven, the “Capriccio à la turque” by Ferit Tüzün (1929-1977) was performed. The composer studied in Munich and had his Capriccio premiered by the Munich Philharmonic. The origins as a ballet piece shine through, as does a jazzy undercurrent and a Stravinskyesque orchestral treatment. Wild, fun, and nothing that scares the children.

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Ahmed A. Saygun, String Quartets,
Quatuor Danel

Three of Saygun’s Ten Songs, op.41 for orchestra and bass were the highlight of the evening. Günes Gürle, an up-and-coming Turkish bass-baritone, sang these dark-bordering-depressive songs with dramatic intensity that would have withstood comparison to scenes from Bluebeard’s Castle. The early Suite for Orchestra is a lesser piece, gently rhythmical, irregularly pulsating, a sorrowful “Improvisation” as a middle movement, and a final movement, “Horon”, that achieves compulsive forward momentum. The concert’s finale was more exciting: Excerpts from the Violin Concerto by Ulvi Cemâl Erkin (1906-1972) who, along with Sagyun, was one of the “Turkish Five”. Hande Özyürek, a member of the Munich RO, fiddled her heart out in those two movements. She produced a gorgeous, viola-like plaintive sound in the short (and still too long) slow movement and plenty fire in the Allegro con fuoco. If the first movement doesn’t fall off considerably, the whole piece should be well worth hearing.

Still, it got overshadowed by the fire-cracker Suite for Orchestra “Köçekce”. Played with enthusiasm, it’s about the “dancers” in harems—highly paid, respected, and sought-out musicians, entertainers, and presumably lust-boy equivalents of the concubines. The work is a wild ride full of virtuosic use of the “cils”, little hand-cymbals the Köçekler used. If you hear it you will agree that Khachaturian has nothing on Erkin!

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