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(2 July – 15 July)
- RÓZSA, M.: Film Music (BBC Philharmonic, Gamba) (Chandos: CHAN10806)
- FAIROUZ, M.: Symphony No. 3, "Poems and Prayers" / Tahrir (S. Cooke, D. Kravitz, Krakauer, UCLA Performing Groups, Stulberg) (Sono Luminus: DSL-92177)
- DOWLAND, J.: Lachrimae, "Seaven Teares" (Hathor Consort, Lischka) (Fuga Libera: FUG718)
Miklos Rozsa was involved with the famed Korda brothers for several decades during his career as a composer of film scores. This is a relationship that commenced with the composer's first major assignment in 1937, Knight Without Armor, a prestige Korda production which starred Marlene Dietrich and Robert Donat. It is fitting that three of the four films represented in this collection are products of this unique affiliation. Gamba and the BBC PO do an admirable job with this material. Clearly the conductor fully understands the ebb and flow of Rosza's distinctive style. While it's wonderful to have new recordings of The Thief Of Bagdad and The Jungle Book in rich, detailed sound, courtesy of Chandos, it's a treat to have an extended selection from Sahara (1943), one of the composer's most underrated scores. Until now we've had to settle for Charles Gerhardt's tantalizing version of the main title.
The suite included here was prepared by the late Christopher Palmer and premiered in the US in 1986 at the Meadow Brook Music Festival. Roughly 8 minutes in duration, it’s brimming with inspired rhythmic and coloristic touches as well as Rozsa’s singular lyrical gift. A few quibbles. As good as the Ben Hur Suite is, it would have been nice to include some other under represented scores.
Sadly, the 30 second opening fanfare for the The Thief Of Bagdad was not included possibly due to time constraints (the disc clocks in at 80 minutes and 37 seconds!) Albeit brief, it does contain important thematic material. These are minor issues. This is a major addition to the Rozsa discography and deserves the broadest dissemination.
Another important release from this talented young composer!
The more I hear of Mohammed Fairouz and his music, the more impressed I am. It is emotionally direct, uses styles from a number of different sources and tends to appeal to a wide audience. For example, his brash, theatrical and culturally meaningful "Tahrir" for clarinet and orchestra relies heavily on the particular skills of the always incredible David Krakauer. The piece is infused with Middle Eastern sound and a sensitivity to the events in Tahrir Square, Cairo when the Egyptian people overthrew the Mubarek government ("Tahrir" in fact being Arabic for 'Freedom'). In fact, some of the opening bars are not even particularly "ethnic" so much as cinematic.
Fairouz's music even seems to channel Philip Glass in places and is wholly entertaining. The clarinet part is quite difficult and requires someone who can pitch a lot and has a fat, "eastern" tone. As a clarinetist, I worry sometimes about pieces that are tailored so very much to one particular performer; but "Tahrir" is wildly entertaining and fun to listen to.
As for Fairouz's Symphony No. 3 - "Poems and Prayers", this is an equally impressive large scale work but one which is quite a bit more serious in its tone. This is a sprawling and impressive work for soloists, chorus and orchestra. The work is, essentially, a plea for peace in the Middle East with its texts alternating between Jewish and Palestinian origin. Some of the texts are of very modern vintage too, such as the 2002 poem "State of Siege" by Mahmoud Darwish; written during the height of the siege of Rahmallah.
This all adds to the sense of contemporary relevance and Fairouz is to be complimented for writing music that is often beautiful and occasionally frightening in its intensity; but which never falls into a cliche of sorts. This is a very impressive disc and the two disc format (CD and Blu-ray audio) gives some very nice and very impressive listening options. They are both quite good - but the Blu-ray is more expansive. Highly recommended!
Relevant Then and Now
For their premier recording, Belgium-based Hathor Consort has taken on the music of, arguably, Elizabethan England’s most famous musician, John Dowland. An international musical force in his own time (his compositions have been found in manuscript collections from Copenhagen to Rome and from London to Kiev and St. Petersburg), Dowland published this collection in 1604. Centered on the seven “Lachrimae” (in the pavan form), the remaining pieces consist of consort arrangements of previously existing lute songs and solos.
The six virtuoso musicians who comprise the Hathor Consort achieve a unity of sound, rare in such a recently formed group, which is a testament to their individual talents as much as to their collective efforts. Sadly, biographical material is provided only on the group’s director, Romina Lischka, the liner notes choosing instead to theorize about the influence of “occult Neoplatonic and Hermetic teachings”. A very odd choice; as great as the other five musicians sound, they really deserve better treatment.
The modern listener may never fully understand the effect of early music on its intended audience; most attempts to do so usually drift off into the realm of academic speculation. Be that as it may, this performance of John Dowland’s consort music can be unreservedly recommended to contemporary listeners for much more than its historical interest or significance. Beautiful and emotionally evocative, this music was relevant in Dowland’s time and, in the hands of virtuosi like the Hathor Consort, it remains relevant today.
Highest recommendation, 10 out of 10.
- Oscar O. Veterano
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