Mirror of Eternity
Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)
Flute Concerto [36:49]
Houtaf KHOURY (b.1967)
Mirror of Eternity [24:48]
Yevhen STANKOVYCH (b.1942)
Chamber Symphony No.3 [18:10]
Wissam Boustany (flute)
National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine/Volodomyr Sirenko
rec. 24, 26 June, 2004, Studio of the National Radio Company of Ukraine, Kiev, Ukraine
As soon as I began playing this, after three or four notes, I knew that this must be a transcription of Khachaturian’s violin concerto, written in 1940 and dedicated to David Oistrakh. I never got to see many really great composers performing their own works - seeing Arnold Bax take a bow from a box after one his works had been played was wonderful but doesn’t count - but the memorable experience that will always remain with me was seeing Khachaturian conduct the violin concerto with the dedicatee playing it. So perhaps that’s an extra reason to recognise it as I haven’t heard it for many years. Then again, the Armenian folk-inspired melodies with which the work is imbued are extremely memorable. The liner-notes explain that it was the famous French flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal who transcribed it at Khachaturian’s suggestion after the flautist had asked the composer to write a flute concerto. The transcription certainly works well and not much needed altering to accommodate the flute over the violin. Wissam Boustany has only made a few more alterations to fit in with his playing style. The first movement is full of dancing rhythms with the soloist called upon to work hard from the very start with many passages at a pretty fast speed. The second movement is as restrained as the first was frantic and a lovely lilting main theme weaves its magic over the orchestral background. The final movement reprises the work’s main themes. The whole experience is truly beautiful and I’m not sure that I don’t prefer this transcription over the original. I’ll have to listen to the violin version again but somehow the Armenian melodies seem so perfectly suited to the flute’s gentle and mellifluous tones. Its ability to dance and to soar is ideally suited to the music.
The second work on this interesting disc is a real discovery: the flute concerto Mirror of Eternity by Lebanese composer Houtaf Khoury. It was dedicated to Flautist Wissam Boustany, a compatriot of Khoury and this is its world premiere recording. Its inspiration doesn’t make for pleasant reading since the first movement describes a person’s reality within the context of the Arab World’s insistence on dictating the path of peoples’ lives according to fundamentalist Islam. Strange then to read Khoury’s own explanation of the second movement which he says describes the representative person’s material life as one of “cabarets and dancers” to which the fundamentalist might react by saying “hence the need for control over Man’s baser instincts if his life consists of little else than that”. The third movement’s form is the mirror image of the first, hence the work’s title bringing back a feeling of depression and disillusion. Memories of better times do still linger while life moves on in its inevitable path to eternity. Irrespective of the ‘programme’, which is in no way vital in appreciating the concerto, the music is quite hauntingly beautiful. It naturally incorporates what must surely be folk melodies from Lebanon and weaves a musical spell. Taken simply as a flute concerto after ditching any programmatic baggage the work is wonderful and gives full rein to the flute’s often miraculous capabilities.
The third and final work on the disc is by Ukrainian composer Yevhen Stankovych, a name unknown to me so yet another discovery. Stankovych is among Ukraine’s greatest living composers and he has received many awards. Reading Stankovych’s programme notes was like re-reading Khoury’s since he too speaks of “foreboding, darkness and despair, interspersed by sudden moments of visionary peace”. However, once again I find it best to clear the mind, take the music at face value and let it speak to me uncluttered by other’s thoughts. The result here is brilliantly inventive – a work which weaves its magic thanks to some wonderful orchestral writing and a brilliant soloist who uses his instrument to its highest abilities. There is again, surprisingly, a whiff of the East in this music – further east than Ukraine at times which the flute seems to embody quite naturally. The music is stark but beautiful. Stankovych is another composer I shall be seeking out. These works are ‘contemporary’ in the best sense of the word; innovative but not ‘off the wall’. Boustany is an incredibly talented flautist and the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, under Volodymyr Sirenko does a fine job - further evidence that lesser-known orchestras deserve being showcased and an issue like this one is a perfect opportunity to do so.
Steve Arloff
These works are ‘contemporary’ in the best sense of the word.