The influence of Turkish music on Turkish-American composer Karman Ince‘s work brightens his intriguing, rewarding, and often fun pieces with vivid color. Passion and Dreams is his new CD on innova Recordings, with performances by the musicians of Present Music conducted by the composer.
In “Dreamlines,” ghostly sighs lead into wordless vocal major-key smiles. These give way to an exposition built on a simple flatted-fifth motif that seesaws between raucous tuttis and tinkling bells you have to lean in to hear. The 15-minute piece is a triumph of sonority over melody and an expansion of the “exotic” into the universal. A prayer softly intoned over the closing section comes from the blessing of Istanbul’s famed Blue Mosque by its legendary architect, Mimar Sinan.
The Turkish Chamber of Architects commissioned the piece for the group’s 100th anniversary in 2008. I don’t know if there was an equivalent guild in Sinan’s time, but I imagine he would have been pleased with this tribute.
The next piece, “Zamboturfidir” (a made-up word), scored for strings, piano, percussion, baritone sax, and bass trombone, suggests the building of great structures too. Pounding rhythms evoke heavy industry in nine succinct movements, broken up by one serpentine dance and, in the penultimate section, a fascinating interweaving of harmonic movement in the low register with whining dissonance in the upper. Persistent half-tone dissonances trouble an ostensibly peaceful, flowing finale too.
Ince shows great command of sparse arrangements as well as pieces for ensembles ten or a dozen strong. “Asumani,” built on a classic Eastern scale, is scored for cello and ney, a Turkish flute associated with Sufi mystical traditions. The piece climbs to heights of breathy passion, then descends to dark depths in a central solo-cello passage, before subsiding into contemplation.
“Fortuna Sepio Nos” (“Lady Luck Protect Us”) for clarinet, cello, and piano evokes the capriciousness of the sea; you can hear in the squealing clarinet the creaking of wooden beams on a sailing ship in a storm, in the roiling piano chords the crashing of the waves. The musicians of Present Music do wonders with texture. In a slow section Ince uses dissonance to create a sense of calm not imposed by artificially constructed beauty but deriving from something near to nature itself.
In the first, uneasy movement of “Partita in E” Eric Segnitz coaxes a woody tone from his violin that melds smoothly if not peacefully with Carl Storniolo’s percussion. Upper-string harmonics sound uncannily like a person whistling. A simple motif involving Ince’s favored flatted fifth explodes into an insistent brawl between the instruments before the opening two-note motif returns to bring down the curtain.
The soft bells and free-fall double-stops of the peaceful second movement lead to a jumpy dance in the finale led by deft fiddling akin to Appalachian folk playing. A return to the flatted-fifth scale leads into more dancing, and a recapitulation of the first movement’s opening motif that’s ultimately pared down to a single note from the violin for an open-ended conclusion.
“Two Step Passion,” a rough, crowd-pleasing Turkish “dance macabre,” ends the album in a dark, wild mood, incorporating bouncy, even jazzy Gershwinian rhythms. While fully confident in his own joyfully experimental sensibility, Ince is a confirmed musical citizen of the world. Far from the New Age treacle its title might suggest, the intellectually and emotionally muscular Passion and Dreams rewards multiple listens.