Ismailova Plays Karayev

Karayev cover

KARAYEV: 24 Preludes. 6 Kinderstücke. The Statue in Tsarskoye Selo. Don Quixote (excerpts) / Elnara Ismailova, pno / Avi Music 8553398

This CD presents the piano works of Azerbaijanian composer Kara Karayev (1918-1982), who combined lyrical melodies with modern harmonies. The program here presents his complete series of 24 Preludes, spread over four books, his Children’s Pieces and a few other works.

The Preludes may be thought by some as modern-day tributes to the same style of music created by J.S. Bach, but his stylistic variety is far greater, and Ismailova, who has an energetic approach to playing as well as a fine technique, rips into them enthusiastically. Karayev’s “singing” quality is also on display here, i.e. the second prelude of Book 1, which sounds a great deal like something Prokofiev would have written.

In the fifth prelude, one hears the kind of traditional Azerbaijan harmonies of the country’s folk music, deftly woven into the musical texture. All of this is attractive music that would not unduly upset the sensibilities of the “average” concertgoer, yet still has great interest for the connoisseur. This is especially evident in the minor-key, modal prelude No. 8, where Karayev uses a sinister running bass pattern in dotted quarters and eighths against a strangely sinister top line. The tenth prelude has another running bass line, this time in continual eighths, at a faster tempo while the right hand sometimes joins it and sometimes plays against it. And prelude No. 23 has a decidedly jazzy feel to it.

Indeed, the sheer variety of Karayev’s preludes will delight and astonish you. There’s never a dull moment in his music, and much of this, as I’ve said, is due to the marvelous playing of Ismailova. Indeed, Karayev’s Children’s Pieces are certainly not for kids to play, but the rhythmic energy of them are engaging—at least, for a child who has some appreciation of finer music. The Statue in Tsarskoye Selo is a pianistic fantasia even more than a tone poem, although it bears some resemblance to the kind of descriptive pieces that Debussy wrote—with an Eastern European accent. At one point, he even steals a quote from Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune!

The excerpts from Karayev’s Don Quixote are slow, sad pieces, reflecting the character’s isolation from society, rather than portraying his eccentric madness—except for the last of them, titled “Travels.”

This is interesting, diverse music, and I especially commend this disc to those modern composers who fall into a stylistic rut, where everything they write sounds alike, as an indication of how much can be done with music if you just think outside the box.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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One thought on “Ismailova Plays Karayev

  1. Andrea Leuckwitz says:

    Thank you for this review! I myself have also recently purchased the CD and enjoyed it immensely. The sheer unadulterated spirit and yet sensitivity of both the composer and the performer really shine through. Besides the playing is nothing short of masterful in my opinion. I have been lucky enough to have seen this pianist live in concert before, and it was an unforgettable evening. This CD belongs in every music lover’s home.

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