Mohajer Presents “Pictures of the Hidden”

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MOHAJER: Prelude / The Ives Collective / Reng / San Francisco Wind Ensemble / 5 Songs, Based on Poetry of Hafez / Raeeka Shehabi-Yaghmai, sop; Karolina Rojahn, pno / String Quartet / The Alexander String Quartet / Ballade in C / Karolina Rojahn, pno / Navona NV6180

Kamyar Mohajer is a composer who combines Eastern modality with modern harmony, counterpoint and polytonality. This CD presents a fairly wide range of works written for various combinations.

The first piece, Prelude, opens with a melodic and somewhat sad cello theme played by the Ives Collective’s Stephen Harrison, with violinist Kay Stern and violist Susan Freier joining him to fill in the harmonies and add counter-lines as the music progresses. This is a decidedly Romantic-sounding piece, with only brief touches of Eastern music in its melodic and harmonic construction.

By contrast, Reng is a rather jolly piece for wind quintet with a fair amount of Eastern harmony woven into it, played with brio by the San Francisco Wind Ensemble. Even more interesting, however, are the songs based on the poetry of Hafez: truly Eastern melodic construction yet still with an attractive melodic contour about them. Soprano Raeeks Shehabi-Yaghmai has a lovely timbre and good diction, but unfortunately a slow beat or wobble in her voice. The piano accompaniment is simple yet effective.

I was pleasantly surprised to see the wonderful Alexander String Quartet playing Mohajer’s piece for strings here—the first movement is yet another lyrical work balancing Western and Eastern elements in a lyrical, elegiac mode, while the energetic second is contrapuntal and more Western in scope. Yet it is in the third movement that Mohajer sounds to me at his most original: a rather amorphous theme in the beginning, leading into an uptempo passage with string tremolos beneath the lead violin which come and go, creating an unusual “ripple” effect in the music, later utilizing upward swoops by the violins against a quadruple-time tremolo base played by the cello. The final movement uses jagged, dramatic figures played against one another which builds into a sort of fugue. This is a very interesting piece!

The ending Ballade in C leans towards bitonality throughout due to Mohajer’s continually moving bass line, which explores unusual modes, and despite it balladic quality it has some dramatic moments within. The tempo also doubles, creating more tension within the piece, which builds to a climax, recedes to quietude, and then builds up yet again.

This is a very interesting album of unusual and largely accessible music.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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