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The title of this album, Persian Autumn, may lead you to expect a collection of Impressionistic trifles with Middle Eastern spice—especially if you’re of a generation to remember such works as Ketelby’s In a Persian Market. In fact, whatever else you can say about this disc, it’s not easy listening. Hormoz Farhat (b. 1928) and Amir Mahyar Tafreshipour (b. 1974) represent two different generations of Iranian composers working in the Western classical-music tradition—but despite the differences in their styles, all of this music is marked by a seriousness of purpose that demands concentration.


Farhat got much of his training in the United States, where he worked with Lukas Foss (among others) and taught at UCLA; and although he returned to Iran briefly, he moved to Ireland after the Revolution. His 1952 Toccata is a brilliant tour de forcebased on the folk song Korashim (Where Shall We Go?)—and while it has the driving rhythms and huge dissonances we might expect, it’s less monolithic than such works as the Prokofiev Toccata. Rather, it’s dotted throughout with re­minders that the text of its source material concerns the frustrations of a young man seeking a place to meet his beloved where her mother won’t see them. That kind of alteration of moods has more room to reveal itself in the larger span of the First Piano Sonata, written just a few years later (1955-57). As you might expect from a work of that pe­riod dedicated to Foss, it’s a bold, dissonant work that resists the pull of tonality. Yet while it’s often assertive, it’s never hectoring—and for all its hard vehemence and for all its rich polyphonic density, there are consistent moments of lyricism, transparency, whimsicality, and even haunting beauty (say, at the end of the second movement) that keep you off balance. This sounds like a work written by someone who has learned from the post-war serialists—but who has not been turned into an acolyte. As for the longer Second Sonata, written half a century later in 2010: We clearly hear the voice of the same composer. Yes, the work is “less abrasive” (as the anonymous program notes put it), more patient, sweeter in tone and, in spots, more meditative in mood. But it shares the exploratory spirit of the First, revealing the same willingness to move in unexpected directions.


The four Tafreshipour works are more programmatic, more closely tied to the traditions (espe­cially the spiritual ceremonies) and the geography of Iran. They’re also far less melodic, contrapun­tal, and rhythmic, tending (the more outgoing episodes of Celebration at Pasargadae serving as a major exception) to feature seemingly independent chunks of sound (isolated notes, chords, brief gestures such as the bell-like sounds that open Yasna ), chunks that emerge at a more or less patient and steady pace. They’re less eventful, more hypnotic than the Farhat works—but they, too, make a strong impression. It’s hard to understand why this recording, set down in December 2010, has been waiting a decade for release.

Mary Dullea is one of our most reliable contemporary music pianists, and as usual, she per­forms this repertoire with virtuosity, commitment, and imagination. Metier’s sound is perfectly adequate, although hardly state-of-the-art; the notes, unfortunately, give short shrift to the music.  

Warmly recommendedPeter J. Rabinowitz (Fanfare)