(photo credit: OMRI BAREL)
The oud (Middle Eastern lute) played only a marginal role in the Oud Festival’s Azerbaijani music concert. It was just one of four traditional instruments used, in addition to one vocalist.
Nonetheless, whoever may have been looking forward to traditional instruments and an authentic vocal style, undiluted by modernist trends, got their wish in the singer Gochag Askarov’s performance of mugham pieces and Azeri folksongs.
Mugham, an arrhythmic, recitative-like, unmelodious vocal genre, is based predominately on the contrast between high falsetto of the male voice and its natural, baritone- like sonority.
Extremely dramatic and intense high-range singing, followed the sudden switch to a calm, low and soft passage, has an even more strongly moving emotional effect. Askarov emerged as a veritable master of these sharp extremes, as well as of the more melodious and rhythmic (and mildly amusing) Azeri folksongs.
On the oud, Shahriyar Imanov performed a surprisingly introverted, meditative solo, and later, on the tar (Middle Eastern guitar), a brilliantly sparkling virtuoso tour de force. Elnur Mikayilov made his kamancha (Middle Eastern knee-held violin) alternately sing and weep.
This ensemble provided a most welcome introduction to a rich, and on these shores little-known culture.