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Bechara EL-KHOURY (b.1957)
Danse pour orchestra Op. 9 "Danse des Aigles" (1980);
Image Symphonique Op. 26 "Les dieux de la Terre" (1982);
Suite Symphonique Op. 29 (1982) "La Nuit et le Fou";
Requiem for Orchestra Op. 18 (1980);
Poème Symphonique No. 1 'Le Liban en flammes', Op. 14 (1980);
Poème Symphonique No. 2 "Le Regard du Christ" Op. 2 (1979]
Orchestre Colonne/Pierre Dervaux
rec. l'Eglise Notre-Dame, Paris, September 1983. DDD
NAXOS 8.557691 [76.35]

This is a reissue of the first of two discs from a Forlane boxed set which Gary Higginson reviewed in 2003.

El-Khoury was born in Beirut but has spent much of his life in France. He is also a published poet. He wrote some hundred works between 1969 and 1978. One of the peaks of his career was a concert given by the Orchestre Colonne conducted by Pierre Dervaux (1917-1992) in Paris on 9 December 1983. The pianist Abdel Rahman El-Bacha also participated. Several of the works had the poetry of Khalil Gibran as their subject. The concert marked the Gibran centenary. Several months before the concert the same forces took these El-Khoury works into a recording session.

Further background on El-Khoury can be found in a Naxos interview.

The Dance of the Eagles is an exhilarating miniature in which Eastern conventions in Western music are honoured. This rumbustious piece is an extension of the paraphernalia of Arabian exotica represented by Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky and Khachaturian. Les dieux de la Terre is a Gibran-inspired piece which can be heard as a dissonant extension of Debussy. Sometimes it coasts close to Messiaen. The notes refer to echoes of Penderecki’s free chromaticism. The character of this atmospheric piece is downbeat, awed and at times suggestive of life at the edge of a deep pit of despair. The two movement La nuit et le fou is another Gibran piece and shares the character and palette of Les dieux de la Terre.

The Requiem for Orchestra is one of triptych of works shaped by the war in Lebanon. The cloud-hung depressive mood is off-set by a singing line for the massed strings at 5:14 onwards although this too becomes saturated with anxiety and then violence. The work was written in Beirut in December 1980 and is dedicated to Lebanese martyrs of the war. The first panel of the triptych is Le Liban en flammes. It developed from a poem El-Khoury had written in 1976 when the war was at its height. Another sturdy dignified benediction of a theme on the strings speaks of tenderness and grief intermingled. This rises to a majestic and very accessible climax. This piece is amongst El-Khoury’s most successful works - stylistically situated somewhere between Rubbra, Kodaly and Rozsa. The third panel of the triptych, Symphony: The Ruins of Beirut is available on Naxos 8.557043. review

The earliest piece here is Le Regard du Christ written while the composer was in Paris at age 22 and dedicated to his parents. With a title like that I was expecting Messiaen-like material but in fact this is a work of melodic tenderness, pastoral simplicity and majestic character. It is without the dissonance of the two Gibran-based works. We can, I think, forgive the occasional tangential flirtation with sentimentality when El-Khoury comes close to film music - perhaps Rota.

Look out for another Naxos disc rescuing the second of the two Forlane discs: Meditation poètique (1986); Piano Concerto (1984) with Abdel Rahman El Bacha; the two Poèmes for piano and orchestra with David Lively and the two Serenades. This disc was recorded live at the Salle Pleyel in February and March 1986

The present disc is generously packed, grippingly recorded and well documented. The music is occasionally striking, evidently sincere and is played with great engagement even if there is the occasional slip.

This is music well worth hearing and from a source and on subject matter that is un usual to many western ears - something rich and strange, as Shakespeare said.

Rob Barnett



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