Ahmed Adnan Saygun (1907-91) wasn’t only Turkey’s preeminent composer of "classical" music; he was a hallmark in Turkish music as a pioneer in polyphonic composition, an ethnomusicologist and an instructor as well. Saygun was a major figure in 20th century music, period. Unfortunately, his works have not yet really achieved wide international exposure (although CPO has done wonders recording several discs of Saygun's music), save perhaps for the very occasional performance of his masterful oratorio "Yunus Emre". Saygun was a master of neo-classical form and was a superb writer for orchestra, especially the chamber or string orchestras which are employed in these two very fine works.
The First Symphony is an exciting work and is dedicated to the conductor Franz Litschauer who, with the Austrian Radio SO, recorded the work in 1954. The Symphony (there are five in all) is scored for a classical-period-sized ensemble, and applies a Western-derived formal rigor to folk-influenced thematic material. Its Turkish aspects are recognizable in places such as the second subject of the first movement, where exotic arabesques are woven around a single note. The birdsong trio of the suavely elegant minuet offers another particularly captivating moment. Elsewhere, the style most closely recalls the Villa-Lobos of the "Bachianas Brasileiras", particularly in Saygun’s deployment of massed winds against the strings. Bartok's influence can be detected, and indeed Saygun acted as Bartok's assistant during the Hungarian's instructional folk music field research visit in 1936. It is instructive to listen to the wildly bubbling Allegro which surely must have been written with knowledge of Bartok's "Concerto for Orchestra" as well as Martinu's Fourth and Fifth Symphonies. The orchestral effect is perhaps part Weill, part neo-classical and a tad Russian (Shostakovich not Pan-Slav nationalism).
The "Concerto da Camera" (Chamber Concerto) was completed May 8th 1978 and debuted at the Istanbul Festival in 1979. The orchestra consists of of first violins (four), second violins (four), violas (three), violoncellos (three), and a double-bass, and shows resourceful use of a string ensemble in Baroque concerto grosso style. It's "concerto" title is derived from the scoring that that treats all the instrumentalists as soloists. As many of the other compositions of Saygun, this work is also modal in nature. The flavors of Turkish folk music, art music and all Balkan country music are used within their peculiar mode characteristics.