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 String Quartet
rec. Ayrshire Farm, Upperville, Virginia, USA, 11-12 May, 2-6 June and 6-7 August 2011. DDD

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 other idioms."
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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Fairouz's polystylism with its 'old-fashioned' structure, tonality and melody means that he is likely to reach bigger and better audiences.