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FAIROUZ: Follow, Poet

spacer Lindsey; Muldoon (speaker); Ensemble LPR, Rogister. No texts. Deutsche 
Grammophon B0022417-02

FollowCD

The centerpiece of Mohammed Fairouz’s new release, Follow, Poet,is an orchestral song cycle called Audenesque, the fourth and final movement of which is also called “Audenesque.” Although Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney wrote a poem called “Audenesque,” Fairouz’s cycle is not a setting of Heaney’s poem; it’s a setting of W. H. Auden’s “In Memory of W. B. Yeats” — except for the aforementioned last song, which is a setting of Heaney’s “Audenesque,” a eulogy for Heaney’s friend, Russian-born poet Joseph Brodsky. Heaney’s tribute to Brodsky was written to emulate Auden’s tribute to Yeats. Got it? Furthermore, except for brief excerpts, neither poem is printed in the booklet; instead, both are read aloud on additional tracks by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Irish poet Paul Muldoon. The soothing quality of Muldoon’s voice notwithstanding, omitting the written texts was a bad choice. It shouldn’t take so much work to figure out what you’re listening to.

Fortunately, these and other annoyances cannot conceal the fact that Fairouz’s work is a beautiful and at times thrilling cycle, grippingly performed by the versatile mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey. In the first song, the rapidly churning violin ostinato grabs the listener immediately, and the voice enters shortly thereafter, urgently describing the bleak, war-torn day of Yeats’s death in 1939. Fairouz strips the accompaniment down to next to nothing when necessary, letting the stark language sink in. The musical setting is intense yet reverential, as the composer layers his own veneration of Yeats on top of Auden’s. After the slow, spare second song, Fairouz allows the music of the third to follow the regular, almost singsong phrases of the poem, resulting in a refreshingly direct ballad in C minor. About halfway through, on the eponymous line “Follow, poet,” the vocal line explodes in a soaring, sorceress-like incantation with a triplet feel. Lindsey delivers this with hair-raising authority. The “Audenesque” movement is the most varied and interesting. In the last stanza, Fairouz, for all his sophistication, can’t resist breaking into a broad, triadically harmonized melody (one he has hinted at earlier), with glorious results.

In the ballet suite Sadat, Fairouz, appropriately, brings into play his characteristic fusion of traditional Middle Eastern elements with contemporary Western musical languge. The ballet depicts five landmark scenes from the life of the Egyptian leader, another prominent figure whose words Fairouz admires. The music is colorful, descriptive, and wide-ranging in texture, with prominent xylophone and marimba, as well as a galvanizing combination of shofar-like horns and church bells in the fourth movement, “Israel.” Dramatic tension and poignancy appear in equal amounts, sometimes juxtaposed, as in the remarkable, grief-laden “The Day the Leader Was Killed.” The thirteen virtuoso players of Ensemble LPR (from New York venue Le Poisson Rouge) perform with virtuosity and commitment throughout both the song cycle and the ballet, under the clearly inspired leadership of Evan Rogister. Fairouz has quickly joined the ranks of a small handful of contemporary composers one watches eagerly to see what they will come up with next. spacer 

JOSHUA ROSENBLUM

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