Fazil Say Plays Say

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Fazil Say has established himself as one of the leading pianists and composers of his generation, but his multifaceted talent has sometimes left critics as perplexed as audiences are thrilled. He’s a hard man to categorise!

Say is equally at home performing and recoding the complete Sonatas of Mozart (released by Warner Classics in 2016 and available here) as he is when playing his own highly distinctive and imaginative compositions.

It is the latter which in my view confirm Say’s place in the upper echelons of the classical tradition, however. I love pieces such as the scintillating 1001 Nights in the Harem (a four-movement Violin Concerto), and the Hezarfen Concerto for Ney and Orchestra.

These have recently been joined on the top shelf by the stunning Troy Sonata, a near-40-minute solo piano work in ten movements, included as the centrepiece of his latest release, Fazil Say plays Say.

Say’s music has a vivid cinematic approach to storytelling, and draws on a smorgasbord of influences, from late Romanticism through to experimental modernism, while incorporating the colours of modern jazz: all unmistakably and decisively shot through with the spirit and culture of his native Turkey.

It makes for a unique and intoxicating blend with which, like his greatest composing forebears, Say’s personal voice emerges from an accomplished fusion of musical reference points.

Fazil Say Plays Say brings together a thrilling selection of Say’s most recent (and I believe finest) solo piano works. It’s an easy choice for Recording of the Month

The Troy Sonata

Fazil Say Plays Say showcases three works:

  • Troy Sonata Op.78
  • The Moving Mansion (Yürüyen Köşk) Op.72a “Hommage to Atatürk”
  • Art of Piano Op.66, nos. 2 and 3.
photography: Asli Girgin

The major work here without question is the Troy Sonata, a gargantuan piece which delights and astonishes in equal measure. Clocking in at 37’52”, this colossal piano work has ten movements which combine to retell the great Homeric epic of the siege of Troy.

Commissioned by the municipality of Çanakkale and premiered on 9th August 2018, reportedly in front of an audience numbering tens of thousands, the Troy Sonata has subsequently taken centre state in Say’s recital programmes around the world, and understandably so.

There really is no doubt in my mind that the Troy Sonata is one of the most significant solo piano works of our time. Typical of its composer, the work embraces a varied contemporary palette of compositional and performance techniques, ear-catchingly including playing inside the piano. Say transitions with ease between brutal, rhythmically empowered dissonance to lyrical jazz voicing and meandering melodicity.

This is music which would make a compelling soundtrack, but equally stands alone, and conveys Homer’s story with suitably epic conviction.

The ten movements are as follows:

  1. Bard Recounts, Homer
  2. Aegean Winds
  3. Heroes of Troy
  4. Sparta
  5. Helen, Love
  6. Troy
  7. Achilles
  8. The War
  9. Trojan Horse
  10. Epilogue

Thematically, the music is bound together by a series of recurring leitmotifs, representing Destiny, Menelaus, Paris, Agamemnon, Heroism, and so on. Some of these have a similar melodic or rhythmic contour (for example Homer, Helen, Troy) adding to a sense of structural integrity and melodic development which places this work more firmly in the Sonata tradition.

I consider Troy Sonata in more detail in my review of the sheet music publication.

The Rest of the Programme

Had the disc merely included the Troy Sonata I certainly wouldn’t have felt short-changed. What follows is no less brilliant however…

According to the CD booklet,

“As with many of Fazil Say’s other compositions, The Moving Mansion breathes new life into the hidden memories and stories of the past. Say introduces listeners to the story of the plane tree and mansion on the National Farm Estate in Yalova. The work recounts Atatürk’s love of nature, a concept that has become a topical subject for today’s world leaders. As the work progresses, Atatürk’s passionate believe intensifies.”

The work was first performed in Switzerland in 2017 and has its Turkish debut in Ankara on 10 November 2017. Cast in four contrasting movements, the piece lasts for around 15 minutes in total.

Once again, this is a dramatic and compelling work in which virtuoso pianism is contrasted with moments of truly mesmerising beauty.

Concluding his survey, Say introduces two pieces from The Art of Piano Op.66. First we have Sari Galin, which delights as a restrained and lyrical jazz interlude, gently developing through improvisatory and exotic flights of fancy.

The deeply felt and intensely melodic Winter Morning in Istanbul will be known to some in its piano duo incarnation, which has previously been recorded and is quickly establishing itself in the duo repertoire.

The Recording

As an interpreter of his own music Fazil Say is of course above reproach, but what stuns above all here is the aplomb with which he rises to the extraordinary technical challenges that his own music rejoices in.

From fiery attack to velvety intimacy and indulgence, Say evokes and coaxes cinematic and orchestral colours from the piano that one rarely encounters.

The cantabile singing tone familiar from his Mozart recordings finds perfect material in the Art of Piano miniatures, while his acute sense of voicing adds depth and nuance to the often dense harmonies of the Moving Mansion and Troy Sonata.

Sparta (from the latter) includes a particularly dazzling foray inside the piano itself, the startling musical impact brought fully to life by the immediacy of Warner Classics outstanding recording, made in the Great Hall of the Mozarteum, Salzberg and produced by Jean-Martial Golaz.


Fazil Say Plays Say is certainly not “easy listening”, but it’s a phenomenal album to experience, both demanding and rewarding our full concentration.

If you haven’t already discovered Say’s powerful and unique musical voice, now’s definitely the time!

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Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is the author of HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC, published worldwide by Hal Leonard. He is a widely respected piano educator and published composer based on Milton Keynes UK.