Lily Afshar

HEMISPHERES VEYSEL: Kara Toprak. DOMENICOONI: Schnee in Istanbul. VALI: Gozaar (Calligraphy No.5). DROZD: Triptych Op.102; Adagio Op.44. SCHNEIDER: Prelude; Fugato. BROUWER: Danza del Altiplano. EISTER: Fantasia on a Traditional Persian Song. NEYDAVOOD: Morgheh-Sahar (Bird of Dawn). BUSTAMENTE: Misionera.

Lily Afshar (guitar and seh-tar) Archer Records ARR-31926 CD

Although long resident in the USA, the hugely talented Lily Afshar was born and raised in Iran. Curiously, this rich ethnic mix is a card she has only played to the full in recent years. At her Wigmore Hall concert in March 2005, an event I was sadly unable to attend, she reportedly performed “Morgh-eh-Sahar”, the Persian theme on which Garry Eister’s “Fantasia” is based, on the long-necked lute known as a seh-tar, presumably the one also used on the present recording.

In fact, this ground-breaking 2006 release provides a permanent home for a number of items found in that historic Wigmore programme, with Eister’s seven-minute odyssey and its principal source of inspiration presented in full. Elsewhere, Afshar offers a fully-adorned “Danza del Altiplano,” a restrained yet evocative account of Carlo Domeniconi’s rarely-performed “Schnee in Istanbul” (one of several victims of the “Koyunbaba” phenomenon) and a suitably exotic reading of Ricardo Moyano’s arrangement of the Turkish minstrel song “Kara Toprak”. In the event that you, like me, are not entirely au fait with the original, an English translation of the lyrics appears amid Afshar’s extensive and informative programme notes.

The “Prelude” and “Fugato” by John Schneider, he of the snazzy tuning systems and interchangeable fretboards, emerge as considerably more searching and developed compositions than might have been expected from the unassuming titles, the “Prelude” alone clocking in at over six minutes. Following these and other challenging contemporary works, Afshar wisely turns the heat down with the Bach-inspired “Adagio” by Polish guitarist and composer, Gerard Drozd. The placing of this inspired and unpretentious pastiche coincides perfectly with that critical moment when the listener’s capacity to take on board new ideas is nearing its limit.

Throughout this kaleidoscopic agenda, Afshar’s delivery maintains a near-perfect balance of technical precision and dynamic energy. With the Morel-based ‘encore,’ a much-admired Afshar speciality, she brings to rest a rollercoaster ride that draws together the seemingly disparate spheres of the classical guitar and world music.

An endlessly rewarding release from one of the 21st century guitar’s most individual and creative figures.

Paul Fowles