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Hughes de COURSON
Babel – from Bach in Africa to Mozart in Egypt
CD 1
Al Sahm al Taéh, song [4:57]
Sankada, song (after Bach's "Lasset uns den Nicht zerteilen") [5:20]
Toma que Toma, song [2:49]
Il Sonno, for ensemble & traditional Irish instruments [4:10]
Stella Splendens, song (after a traditional Catalan melody) [4:43]
Ya Shady Symphony, for voice & orchestra [5:41]
Romero Santo, song [3:36]
Kuteva, song [4:42]
Concerto for oud and piano "No. 23" [7:23]
Herr, unser Herrscher, song (after Bach) [4:36]
El Vuelo, song [3:39]
Ikhtitaf fi Assareva, song [6:39]
O'Stravaganza, for ensemble & traditional Irish instruments [3:45]
Loyauté, song (after Machaut) [3:38]
Concerto for kaval and flute "Alatul" [6:22]
CD 2
The Queen of the 1001 Nights, song [3:37]
Il Duello, for ensemble & traditional Irish instruments [4:57]
Qui n'auroit autre déport, song (after Machaut) [7:38]
Barisokhanda, song [4:25]
Bombé, song (after Bach's "Ruht wohl ihr heiligen Gebeine") [3:46]
Muort'oramai, song (after Landini) [6:21]
Al Riyah, song (after Mozart) [7:58]
Tana Shàot Leïn, song [4:24]
Alle, song [4:29]
Yaman Hawa (Thomas King of Egypt), song [4:47]
La Bigoudine, for children's chorus & barrel organ [3:19]
Ceol Cuaine, for ensemble & traditional Irish instruments [4:19]
Dhikr / Requiem / Golgotha, for voices, children's chorus & orchestra [4:30]
Various artists
No recording details
VIRGIN CLASSICS 5190342 [72:09 + 64:38]
Experience Classicsonline

This is my first extended encounter with the cultural crossover music of Hughes de Courson. I’ve heard snippets before but not two CD’s worth, including those tracks here culled from previous Virgin albums. There are a large number of contributors, not all named in the notes, and no recording dates so the constituency for this conspectus will be a more general audience, one assumes.
If we follow the booklet notes we can say that Bach has been reborn as an African, Mozart as an Egyptian and Vivaldi as an Irishman. Machaut meets techno-rock. That sort of thing. De Courson has had a colourful history, his biography is not short of incident and his pluralist instincts have led to best-selling albums. People like this stuff.
So we find that Bachian themes emerge stealthily from African chant, complete with drumming patterns and shouts, and that thumping rhythm announces some Vivaldi – it sounds rather like Nyman’s Purcellian escapades, which I have to admit I enjoy. If you’re a fan of throbbing disco beat underlying wailing ‘ethnic’ vocals you could do worse than explore CD 1 track 5 where a Catalan original is sung by a Bulgarian Choir over a Studio 52 beat. To blend Arabo-Andalusian chant with Mozart is fun for a while but Bulgar disco fusion gets me down I regret to say.
I positively liked CD 1 track 8 though – Kuteva - with its made-up language. The composer joins forces with Paddy Bush – brother of the more famous Kate – and it works. After which elsewhere the oud converses with Mozart in a virtuoso act of fusion and cross-pollination, Bach is assailed by percussion, Vivaldi gets the Dubliners treatment and there are some spaced out weirdo sounds on CD 2 track 5. By the time we reach the electro-medievalism of CD 2 track 9 – the song Alle - with its complement of funk ‘guitar’ and heavy rock drumming I was beginning to wilt. By the end I had had enough of world fusion and longed for Scarlatti or a bit of King Oliver.
Still, it’s best to listen a bit at a time I should think. There are some splendidly reproduced photographs and a centre-spread Mappa Mundi from 1630. Not my bag really but some of you might like it.
Jonathan Woolf


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