Lily Afshar’s CD, “Hemispheres,” presents music from Turkey, Iran, South America, Poland, and the United States in vibrant, musically astute performances. Afshar’s considerable technical proficiency and poetic sensibility have prompted several composers to dedicate pieces to her, and there are six premieres among the selections. She’s a guitarist with a keen sense of sonority and an easy familiarity with the disparate styles and idioms on display. The clear, slightly resonant recording transmits every nuance of texture and tone with satisfying immediacy.
I was intrigued with the Persian and Turkish pieces. I’ve purposely referred to Persian rather than Iranian music to suggest the ancient and fantastical elements that shape the sound world of pieces like Morgh-eh-Sahar. The distinctive tones of the seh-tar (a native Persian instrument) ring in a world of bardic minstrelsy, deep and powerful in feeling, redolent of the epic history of an old civilization. Other pieces, “Gozaar” and Fantasia on a Traditional Persian Song, albeit recently composed, transmit the essence of a music refined over the centuries. Two technical innovations, the use of fretlets (small frets) and new techniques of retuning in the midst of a composition, facilitate the use of quarter tones, which enable the guitar to speak with an expressive voice outside the familiar.
Kara Toprak is a setting of a Turkish folk song. The rhythmic stresses in the faster sections and the earthly melody lend a joyous quality, symbolic of the lyrics in which the poet proclaims his love of life, even in the face of his ultimate dissolution and dispersion. Schnee in Istanbul paints a serene portrait of a gentle snowfall, peaceful and calm, without any overt Turkish references, despite the title.
Polish-composer Gerard Drozd’s Triptych consists of a vigorous “Prélude,” a soulful “Eternal Song,” and “Dreams of a Clown,” a Felliniesque (or should I say, Rotaesque) waltz, humorous, tipsy, a brief comédie humaine in music. His Adagio is an homage to Bach, reminiscent of the Baroque, but with individual touches that deviate from its model. Schneider’s Lament and Fugato share that approach; the stately procession of the first awakens memories of Baroque gravitas and the Fugato, although not Bachian, is very tightly argued in the fashion of strict counterpoint. An interlude in rippling triplets lyrically alters the mood before a return to the rigorous beginning.
Danza del Alteplano is Brouwer’s arrangement of an Andean folk song. Gradually increasing in tempo with each statement of the theme, it brings to mind the high vistas of the Andes, echoing to the sounds of panpipes and charangos (small Andean guitars). Bustamente’s contribution mines the same lode of Argentinean folk song. Dedicated to a woman living in Misiones, a province in northeast Argentina, Misionera’s strong, passionate tune is set to a galopa, an ideal rhythm to accompany a gaucho on horseback galloping across the Pampas. It’s easy to imagine a story of Argentinean romance informing its bold vitality.
Lily Afshar has brought us a multicolored recital, a richly inventive journey through diverse musical landscapes. May she continue to explore the endlessly varied sonic landscape of her chosen instrument’s repertoire.