Kara Karayev
The Seven Beauties, Don Quixote Suite et al 
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Kirill Karabits
CHANDOS CHSA5203

Kara (or Gara) Karayev (1918-1982) was an Azerbaijani composer, teacher and folklore authority, described as an “artistic dynamo”. The fact that the notorious musical apparatchik Tikhon Khrennikov delivered an encomium in his memory reinforces Karayev’s position as part of the Soviet musical establishment (or perhaps, party hack). I had to chuckle when I read “On the eve of Karayev’s centenary, Kirill Karabits and his Bournemouth forces survey some of his ‘best-known’ works.” Really? I doubt whether many people have even heard of him, let alone be able to name anything he wrote. 

The programme contains the Persian-inspired orchestral suite, The Seven Beauties, based on the writings of an eighth-century Persian poet, and later expanded into a full-length ballet. There’s a single movement from the ballet The Path of Thunder, the Don Quixote Suite (drawing on music for a film), as well as the symphonic poem Leyla and Mejnun, after a poem which Byron called “the Romeo and Juliet of the East”.

The music is well-orchestrated and intermittently colorful – with predictable suggestions of Khachaturian, especially in the grim sounding waltz which inaugurates The Seven Beauties and sounds like the latter’s waltz from his Masquerade Suite – but somehow manages to sound derivative of Glière, even Glazounov and Borodin (in Polovtsian Dances mode), not to mention Prokofiev and Miklós Rozsa (in Ben Hur mode). It is also simultaneously generic, in the approved Socialist Realism style (whatever that meant).

The Seven Beauties was composed in 1949, Don Quixote in 1960 (no more Iberian sounding than Strauss’s masterpiece) and the other work on the CD, The Path of Thunder – about racial prejudice in South Africa – in 1957. I can hardly believe music like this was still being churned out, even in the Soviet Union. It’s perfectly listenable and well played by forces, which have the necessary chops, but I can’t get excited about any of it.