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Majd and Tafreshipour: In Absentia

review in absentia x1 cong

This CD features music from Fozié Majid (b 1938) and Amir Mahyar Tafreshipour (b 1974) who, as their names suggest, are Iranian — although one lived in England as a child.

Tafreshipour specialises in contemporary music that “reaches across time and continents” and has worked with numerous major ensembles, soloists and orchestras. Majd was born in Berlin, attended schools in Tehran and England, and began composing on piano before she had her first lessons at the age of six. Her first public work, at 15, was commissioned by Moreton Hall School — we assume it’s the one in Shropshire and not Great Moreton Hall, once a school — a scéne de ballet that was reviewed in the Guardian.

Majid’s Dreamland Quartet (1997) opens, and is in two movements, the first as an introduction to the second. The first part of the opening movement is one of the clearest examples where a sound that might be preconceived as Iranian is heard. After a very heavy cello, ethereal and feeling like a big space in a desert.

The second movement “Delicatamente e cantando,” – delicate with a lilt — is more forceful, with occasional sounds of the Iranian (Dastgah according to the sleeve notes) although it could also sound English, both suggesting windswept hills but also, to our ears, a peal of bells played by violin (the players on here are two violin, viola and cello), before it slows and becomes more reflective.

Pendar, for solo violin (2017), follows from Tafreshipour, who wanted to “portray a world of inner drama that interacts with the outside world in a surreal fashion”. Fans of Led Zep might like this: in its quieter moments it’s not dissimilar to Jimmy Page playing the violin bow section in Dazed and Confused, before Plant’s vocal section or the Gustav Holst. (For non Zepheads, he uses a violin bow on his guitar to dramatic effect). Pendar is described as being about the kind of thought that confronts and subverts … when you least expect it” so a Zeppelin comparison is apt.

Broken Times is a fuller sound and opens with the viola, somewhere between Spanish and Arabic, before the more strident violins take over, while the closing piece is the title track, Farãghi (“In Absentia”). This is based on folk songs made up of verses dealing with separation from a loved one, featuring a repeated melodic phrase, called farãghi. The word farãghi also means separation, so a double meaning. However, it is also the mystic’s longing to “become one with the Beloved” say the sleeve notes, so Majid develops the idea of separation from a source, tangible or metaphysical. There’s a lot of low cello and high violin, maybe to suggest lowly man and a higher being.

All in all, it’s a mixed album, combining a certain starkness with some more delicate moments, perhaps not beautiful, and western and Syrian sounds. It’s never harsh or strident and sounds old rather than new. “In a state of constant distortion” the sleeve notes say at one point, the distortion being the listener’s expectation. Interesting.

It’s a few weeks since we wrote this review and we’ve carried on playing this for pleasure – possibly the best review we could give it.

Darragh Morgan and Patrick Savage play violin; Fiona Winning the viola and Deidre Cooper, cello. The album was recorded at St Silas Church, Kentish Town, London on 23rd and 24th May, 2018. The cover artwork is by Latifeh Katanchi.

This is out now on Divine Art’s Metier label, MSV28576.


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