Mohammed FAIROUZ(b.1985) Critical Models Litany, for double bass and wind quartet [4:35] Four Critical Models, for alto saxophone and violin [13:41]
Piano Miniatures 1-6, for solo piano [6:58] Three Novelettes, for alto saxophone and piano [12:05] Airs, for guitar [11:46] Lamentation and Satire, for string quartet [10:00]
James Orleans (double bass); ad hoc wind quartet (Jonathan Engle
(flute), Vasko Dukovski (clarinet), Claire Cutting (oboe), Thomas
Fleming (bassoon)); Michael Couper (alto saxophone); Rayoung Ahn
(violin); Katie Reimer (piano); Maarten Stragier (guitar); Lydian
rec. Ayrshire Farm, Upperville, Virginia, USA, 11-12 May, 2-6 June
and 6-7 August 2011. DDD
DORIAN SONO LUMINUS DSL-92146 [59:05]
In a Nico Muhly-esque declaration that is almost de rigueur
among young composers nowadays, the website of Mohammed Fairouz
promises that his music "straddles multiple worlds from the
Sanskrit invocations of the Bagavad Gita, to the Latin Mass
and Arabic music, minimalism, indie rock, romantic tonality,
jazz, thorny modernism, musical theater, the avant-garde and
There is certainly plenty of variety on offer on this debut
monograph from Fairouz who is American-born and of Arabic descent.
The four Airs for guitar are convivial tonal pieces that
evoke, in Fairouz's words, Dowland and Andalusia. The last brief
toccata is a tribute to Britten's classic Nocturnal after
John Dowland. Lamentation and Satire is a vivid,
arresting diptych for string quartet in which Fairouz comments
on the political turmoil in the Middle East. The listener gets
an abundance of ominously sombre colourings and feisty dissonant
passages, but Fairouz's accompanying description of that part
of the world as "over the edge" is harsh and naive.
The six Piano Miniatures - to which Fairouz has since
added two more - are a motley collection of catchy, witty pieces
that could almost have been written a century earlier. They
cover and blend many different styles. The opening Litany,
for the unusual pairing of double bass and wind quartet, is
inspired by the Azan, the Arabic call to prayer, although such
a description does not really do justice to its by turn jaunty
and reflective neo-Classical sound. It is reminiscent at times
of Stravinsky. A pity that it is not the first movement of a
much longer work!
Beyond betokening a zealous publicity department at American
label Dorian Sono Luminus, the five full-page photographs of
Fairouz depict a young man of considerable seriousness, an impression
underlined by the straitlaced-sounding title of the album, 'Critical
Models'. No one should be censured for taking art music seriously
and Fairouz's own booklet notes confirm that he does just that
- but in a few corners of his music, as in the Piano Miniatures,
lurk flashes of humour that widen his appeal.
The two remaining works pair the alto saxophone with piano and
violin respectively. Three Novelettes is more or less
a three-movement sonata, with contrasting moods and tempi. It
radiates a fairly tuneful disposition. The music-theatre montage
that brings the work to an almost riotous end is redolent of
Darius Milhaud at his most mischievous. On the other hand, Four
Critical Models finds Fairouz at his most serious - and
possibly most compelling. The first and third movements are
energetic 'Catchwords' that posit a certain philosophy of art,
'Modernist' and 'Orientalist'. The second and fourth movements
offer considered responses to them in the form of 'Interventions'.
There is no need to go into the politics here, beyond noting
that Fairouz comments on the writings of Milton Babbitt, Theodor
Adorno, Evelyn Baring and Edward Said. Suffice to say that the
music is highly imaginative, with Fairouz applying a raft of
styles to colourful and memorable effect.
Sound quality is very good. The booklet contains a black-and-white
photo of every performer - but not a word of biography! That
is a pity, because Fairouz needs musicians of quality like these
for his music to be heard. Most on this disc are fairly young
and relatively unknown - at the very least Sono Luminus might
have given an appropriate weblink.
Overall, Fairouz's polystylism is surprisingly conservative
for a composer whose music bestrides the "multiple worlds" listed
above, yet is none the worse for it. In fact, its basis in 'old-fashioned'
structure, tonality and melody means that he is likely to reach
bigger and better audiences than the fickle cliques that cluster
around the hyper-eclectic Muhlys of the world.
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