Words By Simon Broughton
Mugham’s new master shows how it’s done
Gochag Askarov, in his mid-30s, is the new icon of mugham, the intense classical music of Azerbaijan. He was the chosen master in BBC Radio 3’s last World Routes Academy initiative and performed at the Albert Hall as part of the 2013 Proms. He is steeped in the tradition, but on the evidence of this CD he is also keen to bring his own rhythmic and dramatic touches to it. At first hearing, the singing style might sound exaggerated, but that is often the way with mugham and Askarov controls it all brilliantly.
The opening mugham is an eight-minute tour de force in its darkness and intensity. It’s a confessional, broken-hearted love song, with Askarov’s urgent vocals intensified by tight percussion solos and reedy balaban accompaniment. The texts are predominantly of yearning and lost love, but as the title suggests, they can also have a divine interpretation. This first song is one of them. The following pieces are longer suites of a mugham verse combined with lighter, rhythmic pieces known as tesnif. The music of ‘Mugham Deshti’ is mostly romantic with a swooning melody and rippling qanun zither; with ‘Bayati Shiraz’ it is lamenting; and for ‘Mugham Khanj Segah’ the music is quiet and understated, although the lyrics seem anything but. ‘You did not offer me the ruby-coloured sherbet of your lips,’ they complain, ‘when I was parched with thirst.’ This concludes with a fast tesnif with thrilling percussion and the excitement of a bare-back horse-ride. The instrumental playing, including plucked tar, bowed kamancha and balaban is splendid. This is without question one of the best recordings of mugham around.
Track to Try: ‘Mugham Improvisation in the Mode Shushter’