> Choral and Song
Hughes; Kravitz, Thompson; Krakauer, clarinet; Pine, violin; Spooner, piano; Borromeo String Quartet; Imani Winds. Naxos 8.559744
Mohammed Fairouz is well represented in this new collection of his recent works. The pieces herein, all composed between 2008 and 2011, are good examples of the young Arab–American composer's trademark integration of traditional Middle Eastern and contemporary Western musical languages. Tahwidah (Lullaby), for clarinet and soprano, begins with a virtuoso yet soulfully expressive display of extended instrumental techniques by the wizardly David Krakauer. He and the agile soprano Mellissa Hughes provide perfectly tuned intervals, their timbres blending in and out of each other's with mournful synchronicity. We learn in the last line of this unusual and affecting piece that the woman has been singing to her son at his funeral.
The remarkable baritone Chris Thompson, with fine accompaniment by pianist Steven Spooner, delivers a suave, nuanced and compelling performance of the songs in Posh, a cycle of three poems with texts by Wayne Koestenbaum, from his provocatively-titled collection Best-Selling Jewish Porn Films. Thompson has a keen ear for the humor in lines such as "I can't find the Ned Rorem sea songs in the card catalogue / and the librarian won't let me enter the stacks."
For Victims, for baritone and string quartet, based on poems by David Shapiro, is a memorial to victims of Nazi atrocities, one of whom was the poet's grandfather, a cantor. Fairouz's music is bleak yet beautiful, and full of riches. The cavernous baritone David Kravitz is especially good in his description of the little cantor with his "sweet tenor coloratura flautando" marching down the aisle of the synagogue.
The first movement of Jebel Lebnan (Mount Lebanon), for wind quintet (here, the vibrant Imani Winds), sounds like fresh, exuberant relief after the desolation of For Victims — as if Poulenc had tried his hand at writing Klezmer music. I didn't know until I read the notes that the piece is actually about the Lebanese Civil War, and the first movement in particular is a portrait of Bashir Gemayel, the brutal leader of the Lebanese Phalange Party. In spite of this sobering reproach, I greatly enjoyed the subsequent movements — a Mahlerian funeral march; a quietly celebratory, minor-tinged "Dance and Little Song" and the concluding "Mar Charbel's Dabkeh," an Arabic round dance, which uses harmonic minor modes familiar to Western listeners from Fiddler on the Roof and "Hava Nagilah."
Fairouz's description of his Chorale Fantasy for string quartet is couched in vocal terms — "a violin line with unheard lyrics," "a whirling dance reaching a vocal climax," and parts written "within the singing range of the human voice." Yet it's a purely instrumental work and fortunately stands on its own quite well without the unheard lyrics, especially in this engrossing performance by the Borromeo String Quartet.
In Native Informant — Sonata for Solo Violin, Fairouz displays intimate knowledge of the instrument, as well as an ability to sustain intensity and interest over the course of a five-movement, twenty-four-minute work with the limited color palette of a solo instrument. Rachel Barton Pine turns in a customarily impeccable performance of this attractively wide-ranging work. From all his diverse materials, Fairouz manages to concoct expressive pieces of a cosmopolitan bent. Listeners from all cultures will probably find themselves engaged and moved.
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