Alexander Rahbari: My Mother Persia, Vol.1 Symphonic Poems Nos.1-3

review rahbari x1 cong

Iranian conductor and composer Ali (Alexander) Rahbari has worked with more than 120 European orchestras. Born in 1948, he studied violin and composition at the Persian National Music Conservatory then went to Austria.

In 1979 he was invited to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and became Herbert von Karajan’s assistant, working with him every day for two years.

While mostly conducting, he did compose and his eight symphonic poems, My Mother Persia, of which this is volume one of two, combine traditional Persian styles with a more familiar Western orchestral sound. While the music is noticeably Eastern, it’s not the popular (and perhaps tending to lightweight) Persian music devotees of world music might recognise, and neither is it classical, being an adventurous combination of the two.

Symphonic Poem No.1 Nohe Khan opens. “Nohe Khan” is the name for a singer, usually tenor, who sings in religious ceremonies. They sing in a sad but emotional style. This piece is inspired by the composer’s memory of Ashoura, the busiest day for the Nohe Khan, as it is the day on which the grandchild of the Prophet Mohammad, Husayn ibn Ali, was killed.

The opening allegro is quite Western in sound, and very dramatic — Husayn was killed in battle and had his head and body separated — before the violin takes the role of the Nohe Khan, the sound becoming more Persian. The violin-as-singer remains in place for the rest of the piece, though the orchestra also plays a part. The shorter andante starts more dramatically but again slows and the final Allegro molto conversely opens more gently with a Persian sound before becoming tenser.

The shorter Symphonic Poem No.2 Mother’s Tears is also inspired by Ashoura, when orphans gather to sing sad melodies. Rahbari lost two brothers and a younger sister during his childhood; it’s a sad, albeit dramatic, piece with shades of the funeral march melding with the Orphan Melody, a sad Iranian tune.

Closing piece is Symphonic Poem No.3 Children’s Prayer, which starts off evoking morning prayers but then conveys the children’s feelings of being a little naughty and afraid of their teachers at the same time. It is, surprisingly, perhaps the most serious piece.

A meaty programme of music, this is accessible orchestra music with a Persian twist. The Antalya Symphony Orchestra and the Prague Metropolitan Orchestra feature; Paula Rahbari is the violinist.

Out on Naxos 8574064.

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