Bechara EL-KHOURY (b. 1957)
Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 62, Aux frontières de nulle part (On the Borders of Nowhere) (1999–2002) [22:17]
Horn Concerto, Op. 74, The Dark Mountain (2007–2008) [25:15]
Clarinet Concerto, Op. 78, Autumn Pictures (2009–2010) [25:31]
Sarah Nemtanu (violin), David Guerrier (horn), Patrick Messina (clarinet)
Orchestre National de France/Kurt Masur (violin), Jean-Claude Casadesus (horn)
Orchestre de Chambre de Paris/Olari Elts (clarinet)
rec. live, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris, 25 May 2006 (Violin), at the Salle Olivier Messiaen, Maison de la Radio, Radio France, Paris, Festival ‘Présences’, 18 September 2009 (Horn) and at Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, Festival ‘Les Paris de la Musique’, 10 November 2010 (Clarinet)
world première. live recordings
NAXOS 8.572773 [73:13]

It was only four years after Bechara El-Khoury moved from his native Beirut to study in Paris that he was the subject of a concert the like of which many a composer would envy. On 9 December 1983 the Orchestre Colonne under Pierre Dervaux gave world première performances of, the Symphonic Poem No. 1: Lebanon in Flames, the Requiem: For the Lebanese Martyrs in the War, the Symphonic Picture: The Gods of the Earth and the Symphonic Suite: Night and the Fool. Forlane then issued a 2CD set of his orchestral works as recorded by Dervaux. El-Khoury became a French citizen in 1987. On CD he has done pretty respectably. Quite apart from that Forlane double, a large part of which was accessibly reissued on Naxos, there have been other Naxos CDs: New York Tears and The Ruins of Beyrouth. We have not, as yet reviewed 8.557692 which includes the Piano Concerto, the Poème for piano and orchestra and the Méditation Poétique for violin and orchestra.
The present disc adds to the treasury of this composer's works with three 25 minute three-movement concertos dating from the 2000s. They were taken down at concerts and in all three cases benefit from committed performances. While I have a high tolerance level anyway I heard nothing to distract as a result of the presence of an audience. Applause is included in all three cases. The recording is dedicated to the memory of the composer's mother.
The Violin Concerto No. 1 is characteristically lyrical. Quite apart from its admitted allusions to the Berg concerto - a work more than respected by El-Khoury - this also reminded me a little of the more poetic sections of the Walton and Rozsa violin concertos. Although some may still shiver at reference to Berg the language is not at all difficult. There are some dramatic moments but this concerto has more to say about beauty than about derring-do. A similar poetic vortex ineluctably drives the gentle pulse of the Horn Concerto - a Radio France commission. The stabbing jagged opening of the Drammatico Energico finale - Herrmann's Psycho meets Beethoven 5 - provides contrast. Even this is lovingly overrun by the work's overwhelming proclivity for nostalgia. The Clarinet Concerto has movements simply entitled: Cantabile, Poetico and Energico - all facets of the instruments soul as laid bare by Finzi, Corigliano and Veale. The music mediates its way between film noir brooding and lyrical contemplation only offset by the occasionally rushing finale. There's a clever last page or two. It's difficult to end a work without resort to cliché but this one does it with a wink and a smile.
It is no surprise that all three concertos include movements whose titles make play with the words 'poetry' and 'mystery'. We hear some excitingly dynamic music structured around 'dramatic' and 'energetic' but reflective tendencies predominate. We are assured that the two latter concertos have associations with the natural world of his native Lebanon. Western listeners should not expect to hear anything crudely East Mediterranean - at least not in any stereotyped sense. El-Khoury's music looks inwards - he is not concerned with postcards.

The extremely useful booklet notes are by Gérald Hugon and are in English and French.
The music of Bechara El-Khoury is not about harsh modernity. If you have a taste for the composers I have mentioned in passing then you can be sure you will enjoy this. These concertos may well set you on a path towards the composer's other four Naxos discs.
Rob Barnett


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