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Classica Eric Taver, Classica - Paris, France

This CD is more than a new recital of a pianist. Birsen Ulucan's assumed virtuosity could have been cause for a display of strength. In fact, she puts it at the disposal of a great liking for mysterious climates and twighlight atmospheres. Birsen Ulucan starts from bold and personal musics from Medtner and Prokofiev, two Russian master pianists of the XXth century, so that we can gently reach the shores of Turkish music of the XXIst century, where echoes of popular music and poetry, jazz and formal research blend together. Even more than this clever program, Birsen Ulucan's pianistic presence, which is an unexpected mixing of clear lines and underground strain, actually makes this CD an unique, unforeseen and bewitching moment.

Martin Greve

Nikolai Karlovich Medtner (1880-1951)

Faıry Tales, Op. 26 No: 1, 2, 3

1          Allegretto frescamente
2          Molto vivace
3          Narrante a piacere

• Composed 1910-1911


Medtner's large body of Skazki (Fairy Tales, or Folk Tales as the composer preferred to call them) span the better part of his composing career, and are as characteristic for Medtner as his daunting series of 14 sonatas. Within his total oeuvre, they take a similar place as Grieg's Lyric Pieces or Chopin's Mazurkas, albeit that these are by no means miniatures, some of them reaching rare heights of passion and virtuosity.

The long-standing Russian tradition of telling folk tales inspired Medtner to write some of his most accessible and appealing works. This is a magical, half-lit world inhabited by princes and princesses, gnomes, elves, soldiers, and wondrous animals. Medtner's powers of musical storytelling were much admired by Rachmaninov, who once exclaimed, after Medtner's performance of the Skazki Op. 51, "No one tells tales like Kolya !"

The Skazki, having much more immediate appeal than Medtner's large-scale works, are at last enjoying a well-deserved popularity, thanks mainly to the pioneering work of pianists like Hamish Milne and Marc-André Hamelin. These works may well prove to be a key factor in the recognition of Medtner's unique status as one of the greatest keyboard composers of all times.



Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

Four Pıeces for Pıano, Op. 4

1          Reminiscences
Tranquillo. Pensieroso. Tranquillo. Non tranquillo. Tranquillo
2          Elan
Molto allegro
3          Despair
Andante con agitazione e dolore
4          Suggestion Diabolique
Prestissimo fantastico

• Composed 1908  • Premiere 1908, Petrograd, Sergei Prokofiev ~ piano


Prokofiev was not only interested in making a name for himself as a composer in the earliest years of his career, but he also wanted to impress audiences with his considerable keyboard skills. Thus, it is not surprising that his first four opus numbers were attached to difficult solo piano works. Actually, this Op. 4 set dates to 1908 and was written shortly after the Op. 1 First Sonata, making it among the earliest works whose publication was sanctioned by Prokofiev.


No. 1, "Reminiscences," is a melancholy piece of some appeal, marked Tranquilo. While this contains echoes of Scriabin, the ensuing "Elan" (Molto Allegro) is pure Prokofiev-early, sassy Prokofiev. "Despair" is the longest piece here and perhaps the greatest in depth. Marked Andante con agitazione e dolore, its gloom reminds one of a thick fog of depression in a pre-Prozac world. Without doubt, one of his most famous piano compositions is No. 4 here,   the "Suggestion Diabolique," a wild, spooky display piece that, in performance, manages to please both eye and ear. Marked Prestissimo fantastico, its theme is short, sneaking about mostly in a downward pattern and threatening mayhem as it grows louder and more frenzied. The writing is brilliant throughout and nowhere more spectacular than at the climax where the left hand takes up the theme while the right splashes notes in every direction. Two glissandos clear the air for the subdued close. In sum, these four pieces are generally of high quality and are among the composer's more inventive early piano works.



İnci Yakar (1981)

"Don't cry", Aşık Daimi

• Composed 2009 •  Vocals Özer Özel • Bendir Engin Gürkey


Why do you cry, my dark haired beauty

This will also pass, don't cry

My sigh reaches the sky

This will also pass, don't cry


Around a rose are thorns and spines

So the nightingale screams and cries

But after winter comes spring,

This will also pass, don't cry


I am Daimi, not every soul can unlock the secret

Only a true minstrel reaches the divine light

Through patience Joseph reached Egypt

This will also pass, don't cry


While researching this song from the Tercan region, which I have known and loved for a long while, I came across the information that Aşık Daimi (1932-1983) composed it in the 1960s, before starting out on a long tour of Europe. The sorrow felt by his wife and child, after the death of his mother during his previous tour, moved the poet to write this song. I took this as my starting point and while debating how to reflect these three characters, I decided upon the following approach; three figures: "Mother-Father-Child", three instruments: "Voice-Piano-Bendir", three notes: "G-F sharp-E". By sharing this detail, I wanted to give listeners a foresight into how the work evolved. (İnci Yakar)



Fazıl Say (1970)

The Dances of Nasreddın Hodja, Op. 1

Devr-i Turan (7/8)

Devr-i Hindi (7/8)

Bektaşi Raksanı (15/8)

Şarkı Devr-i Revanı Velvelesi (13/8)

• Composed 1990  • First performed by Fazıl Say, Berlin, January 1991


The Dances of Nasreddin Hodja

These four dances which Fazıl Say wrote for piano, in which he employed various techniques while creating his own style, can be described as the first work with which he proved his identity as a composer.


The composer wrote Nasreddin Hodja at the age of 20 while still a student in Germany. He was working at that time on Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, and was a fervent admirer of the revolutionary aspects of this work. Based on this, he planned to use the aksak ritim   (a rhythmic pattern of nine beats with a signature of 9/8) of traditional Turkish music.    The work he was to write was to be as bold and aggressive as it was unique, even requiring the inclusion of farcical elements.


The Dances of Nasreddin Hodja was composed under these conditions. The main unique characteristics of the work include the beats of the aksak ritim being transferred to the piano in a striking manner, the frequent inclusion of jazz elements, the playing techniques requiring extreme speed and virtuosity, and all of these disparate elements being bound together by a sense of irony. 


The character of this work reflects both the composer himself and modernity.  According to the performer, it is possible to present these 4 fast, short pieces as part of a piano recital. The rhythmic structure of the work, inspired by the old familiar beats of our forefathers, is new to many listeners.


Fazıl Say has performed this work at some 100 recitals to date, with the Dances impressing the audience as fascinating and striking and also being received with great enthusiasm. Nasreddin Hodja played a major role in the composer receiving the "Best Contemporary Music Interpreter" award at the European Union Piano Competition in 1991. Say entered the competition as a "pianist", but emerged as a "composer", receiving an award for composition in a circuitous manner. The same occurred at the "Young Concert Artists" competition for best European artist in Leipzig and best international artist in New York.  A "creative interpretation" philosophy is what leads to a pianist being designated "creative". The Dances of Nasreddin Hodja received words of acclaim in the international press: The Washington Post described the work as a "complex coalescence of rhythms"; with The New York Times comparing it to the "audaciousness, agility and dizzying speed of Prokofiev and Bartok"; a critic at Der Tages-spiegel Berlin did not conceal his enthusiasm, declaring, "Like dynamite! The shocking effect it had on me continued long after the work had finished".


The first recording of the work was made by Fazıl Say in 1996, in the USA, by Troppe Note Records.


Evrim Demirel (1977)

Four Folk Songs from Anatolıa (2010 Versıon)

Yağmur Yağar (Kütahya), Ferayi (Muğla), Yayla Yolları (Burdur), Batum (Sinop)

Performed by Istanbul Contemporary Music Ensemble

Conductor Erdem Çöloğlu

Vocals Özer Özel                   

Percussion Engin Gürkey

1. and 2. Piano Birsen Ulucan 

Kemancha Aslıhan Eruzun Özel
Kanun Esra Berkman              

Bass Ceren Akçalı

Tambur, stringed tambur Özer Özel    

Cello Çağlayan Çetin


Anadolu'dan Dört Halk Türküsü was originally written in 2004 for the Atlas Ensemble as  a suite for western voice and cross-cultural chamber ensemble. While the first and the    third song provide slow and dense compositions, the second and the final song can be characterized as fast and lively Anatolian folk songs - although in contemporary arrangements. A clear break after the second song divides thecomposition into two halfs of almost    equal length.


In 2010 Evrim Demirel revised his former composition for Birsen Ulucan, changing its instrumentation widely and replacing the western singer by the Turkish art music singer Özer Özel. Comparing the two versions it becomes clear how much Evrim Demirel has developed during the years: while the former composition was clearly western music - although including strong elements of Turkish music - it has turned now into a hardly classifiable intercultural art music spanning several traditions equally. Together with the traditional Ottoman-Turkish singing technique (and also in the Turkish instruments) the Turkish tonal system is now clearly audible, sometimes in hard tension with the western tempered system. The main instrument has become the piano, used here in the unfamiliar function as a bridge between Turkish and western music: in dense polyphonic duos with the Turkish zither (kanun) the piano transports western contemporary tonality into the environment of Turkish music.


Later the piano returns to a more western musical structure. In particular the second and the fourth songs are almost piano songs, partly recalling arrangements from the Turkish Five in the 1930s and 40s. Jazz elements in the piano part, however, for instance the rich syncopation, show the jazz experience of the composer. Towards the end of the piece the piano becomes more and more percussive and playful - however still creating free atonality. The other instruments, both western and Turkish, provide a rich variety of musical colours. Here melodies are hardly used, the composition is made up mainly of sounds. The central and recurring element is the piano with its differing textures. Only the traditional song melodies remain unchanged and clearly perceivable, and are never reduced to an exotic quotation. All other musical elements are constantly in transition. It is this dense and colourful musical space which allows such different musics to merge. The third song for instance begins with a kind of taksim played on the kemence - an improvisation in Ottoman art music played to introduce a new melodic modus - played before the musical background of free atonality, and leading to a free, later clearly Anatolian melody.

Music like this is risky both from the side of contemporary western music and   from traditional music. It could only be succesful by taking extreme care about all details of the sound. The melting process in Evrim Demirel's music takes place in the atoms  of music. This compositional way is directed not by complex theory but by the extremely open senses of the composer.


Martin Greve Musicologist

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