Naji HAKIM (b. 1955)
Hakim plays Hakim
Bach'orama, Orgelfantasie über Themen von Johann Sebastian Bach (2003) [7:33]
Jonquilles - Trois Préludes Pascals (2010) [5:03]
Mit seinem Geist - Variationen über 'Ein' feste Burg' (2007) [21:28]
Theotokos (2010) [17:08]
Salve Regina (2004) [5:59]
Gershwinesca (2000) [11:48]
Naji Hakim (organ)
rec. 26-27 July 2011, Eglise Saint-Martin, Dudelange, Grand Duché du Luxembourg
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 and insight.
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.
Dan Morgan
A walk on the wild side; an absolute must for adventure lovers.