Organ music doesn’t get more contemporary than
these invigorating and provocative pieces by the Lebanese-born
Naji Hakim. Also, few in his field are more sought after as
composer, performer or pedagogue. As a child he graduated from
piano to organ, eventually studying with the influential Jean
Langlais. In 1985 he became organist at Sacré Cœur,
Paris, and succeeded Olivier Messiaen at Sainte-Trinité
in 1993. He’s already recorded three discs for Signum;
from Glenalmond College in Scotland (CD 130), the Danish Radio
Concert Hall in Copenhagen (CD 222) and The American Church
in Paris (CD 245).
In keeping with this eclectic spread of instruments and locations,
Hakim’s latest offering comes from St Martin’s Church,
Luxembourg. It’s an imposing pile, whose 1912 Stahlhuth
organ was extensively refurbished and modernised by Thomas Jann
in 2002. I first heard the instrument on Rédemption,
a new recording from the Finnish organist Kalevi Kiviniemi -
Fuga-9320 - and while it sounds impressive it seemed rather
bright and overbearing in character. Then again, Hakim isn’t
exactly reticent either, as his compositions and playing style
so aptly demonstrate.
Bach'orama certainly captures the composer’s impish
spirit, its baroque reserve co-existing with flamboyant dissonance.
Hakim’s rhythmic dexterity is just astonishing, and the
piece builds to a big, splashy finale that will either have
you reaching for the eject button or craving more. Only too
pleased to hear new and bracing repertoire played with such
élan I stayed my hand and plunged into Jonquilles:
three preludes based on Danish Easter hymns. This has an austere
charm that couldn’t be more different from that distinctly
modern homage to Bach. Hakim is full of surprises: the second
prelude is quirky - funky, even - while the third is a striking
blend of public majesty and private devotion.
What I admire most about these pieces and the way they’re
played is that behind the virtuosic façade lies a tangential
and inventive mind that articulates many conflicting and diverse
ideas at once. The result is music of coherence and flair; and
as a skilled improviser Hakim knows just when to stop. Even
his eight-movement set of variations on the Lutheran chorale
Ein’ feste Burg brims with character and colour.
The whole is underpinned by delectable rhythms. Indeed, deftness
and clarity are the watchwords here. All this warmth and detail
is well caught by engineer Augustin Parsy.
Dipping into Rédemption I was struck by how different
repertoire and recording set-ups can produce such divergent
results. True, the Kiviniemi disc is devoted to French music
that suits the heft of the Stahlhuth-Jann instrument, but the
liquid loveliness of this organ in the Allegro moderato
(tr. 10) is utterly unexpected. No doubt Hakim’s lightness
of touch - not to mention his ear for catchy rhythms and sparkling
sonorities - contributes to the appeal of this most memorable
offering. What a find, and how beautifully constructed. As for
that rousing, earthy finale it’s spectacularly done.
I’ve not responded so positively to an organ recording
since I discovered Kiviniemi’s Fuga discs. The sheer eclecticism
and energy of the seven-part Theotokos (Gr. Mother of
God) is apt to take one’s breath away; it absorbs and
expresses so many devotional styles and yet does so in such
a seamless and compelling way. Not since Messiaen has the votive
power of the organ been so keenly - and exuberantly - felt;
just sample the hip-swaying, almost Evangelical, joy of Prière
and the flighty Déclamation, neither of which
prepares one for the mix of wild ecstasy and Eastern exoticism
in the Finale. A sublime noise indeed.
Even the Salve Regina, so clearly founded on plainchant,
emerges with a strange cast. Its quiet harmonies are beautifully
pitched by the organist and most gratefully caught by the microphones.
In a disc so full of discoveries this little piece is one of
the most magical. It’s a remarkable and intensely moving
synthesis of ancient and modern, of light and shade, and I hope
its spell never fades. As for Gershwinesca, it may be
self-explanatory but like everything else here it’s not
at all self-regarding. Rarely have I heard organ playing of
such spontaneity and good humour, or a homage born of such intuition
I have yet to hear Hakim’s other Signum discs, but if
they’re even half as piquant and palate-cleansing as this
they’ll be must-buys as well. Throw in good, basic liner-notes
and organ specs and you have a very enticing package indeed.
A walk on the wild side; an absolute must for adventure lovers.