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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Bechara EL-KHOURY (b.1957)
Symphonie ‘Les ruines de Beyrouth’ Op.37 (1985);
Méditation symphonique ‘Colline de l’étrange’ Op.53 (1993);
Harmonies crépusculaires Op.55 (1993);
Poème Symphonique No. 4 ‘Le vin des nuages’ Op.59
Ukraine National Symphony Orchestra/Vladimir Sirenko
Rec. Grand Concert Studio of the National Radio Company of Ukraine, Kiev, February/March 2002
NAXOS 8.557043 [63.49]


Gerard Hoffnung CDs

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Bechara El-Khoury was born in the war-torn city of Beirut in 1957. His works can be considered an expression of his humanistic beliefs based on Christian spirituality. He is also a poet, and was a published composer and poet whilst still a student in France at the Ecole-Normale de Musique. Since 1987 attracted by France’s Catholicism and by the philosophical attitude inculcated in the Arts, he became a French citizen. El-Khoury has been commissioned by bodies in France and in the Lebanon, writing serious concert works and film music. He has won various prizes, for example the ‘Prix des Arts et de la Culture’. He has had performances all over Europe and in Russia. With this strong pedigree it quite astonished me to realize that not only had I not even come across him before but that he didn’t even feature in the Gramophone catalogue. So three cheers and more to Naxos for allowing us an opportunity in their excellent 21st Century series to get to know his very distinctive sound-world, and all for less than a fiver.

My advice though would be to start not with the Symphony which opens the CD but with the ‘Poème symphonique no.4’ entitled ‘Le vin de nuages’- ‘Wine of the Clouds’, because it is this piece that seems to me to demonstrate the fusion between French impressionism (or at least a French style which follows a line from Debussy, through Messiaen and Dutilleux and now Grisey) and something approaching an eastern European one. The style is difficult to pin down but is something to do with melodic modality and dark harmonies sometimes heard in the symphonies of the Turkish composer Ahmed Saygun (newly released by CPO).

Composers who slip easily into writing film music are not ideal symphonic composers. Ideas tend to be juxtaposed. Moods change quickly. Large-scale development does not happen. Creating a mood or atmosphere is a priority. When dealing with a tragic or tense story the music can be mostly slow and moves around so that concentrated development and gradually and logically achieved climaxes are not, necessarily, a part of the composer’s technique. ‘The Ruins of Beirut’ Symphony seems to me to fall into this category, especially the almost Schoenbergian first movement. Its sudden bursts of volume, rage and speed are immediately contrasted with long stretches of calm, so that a visual image seems to be conjured up. Much of the disc is mostly slow and dramatic music. The symphony does have a Scherzo marked Misterioso in 5 time. The slow Poetico is the heart of the symphony; its weeping melodies and passionate, intense chords help you draw on a serried rank of images seen in the 1980s when the city was experiencing its darkest time. To cap it off the fourth movement ‘Tragique’ is a harsh landscape of changing colours not without hope but liable to burst into flames and proclaim a fierce march at any moment. An Old Testament world of man’s injustice to man is summoned up. It is not comfortable listening, but it is always arresting.

The remaining works on the CD are also mainly slow meditations on given subjects. ‘Colline de l’étrange’ begins with a hushed, slowly building chord and then a sudden timpani rhythm followed by a brazen brass fanfare and whooping horns … dramatic stuff. The music subsides into string chords. This is "a journey through fog pierced by glimpses of light" in much the same way that ‘Harmonies crépusculaires’ is slow and sombre with shattering brass interruptions. The work is dedicated to the memory of the late French conductor Pierre Dervaux. Again, this is strong, dramatic and visual music.

The recording is first rate and the orchestra are on top form and seemingly well rehearsed.

So, to sum up: here is a composer with a gripping and approachable voice who is well worth getting to know. We should remember his name and mark his career.

Gary Higginson



Gerard Hoffnung CDs

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Hallé
Hortus
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Nimbus
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Sheva
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Toccata Classics


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