Ravishingly beautiful, achingly precious songs and instrumentals, ranging from two performances by the Royal Court Orchestra in 1906 — with futuristic, overlapping trumpets and exquisite clarinet improvisation — through to a hauntingly soulful Hafez setting by Moluk Zarrabi of Kashan, from 1933.
There are eight selections from more than three hundred recordings made in 1909 above the Gramophone Company offices in City Road, London EC1, by the travelling Persian Concert Party — with chimes, castanets and rattles lighting up its rueful, imploring, besotted love-songs. ‘I am crazy with envy of the dress asleep in your arms and the oils rubbed into your skin.’
The backbone of the collection is a set of powerful performances by women, in defiance of the social stigma attached to professional musicianship. A singer calling herself simply Helen turns in some boozy Hafez wisdom: ‘Keep your cards close to your chest. Kiss nothing except the lips of your beloved and the rim of a cup of wine. Let no one judge you.’
The great Jewish tar-player Morteza Ney-Davud is featured as soloist and accompanist, besides a series of staggering improvisations by Abd-ol-Hoseyn Shahnazi, and an anonymous, red-raw tar solo from the South Caucasus, captured in Tiflis in 1912.
The two CDs are sumptuously presented in a hard-back gatefold sleeve, with a 26-page booklet containing full notes and marvellous photos, on fine-art papers, stitched not stapled. The four 180g LPs are presented in two gatefold sleeves inside a heavy card slipcase, with a 12-inch-square, 20-page, saddle-stitched booklet on art paper. The music was painstakingly restored from 78s at Abbey Road studio in London.