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Naji HAKIM (b. 1955)
Hakim plays the Schuke organ of the Palacio Euskalduna de Bilbao – Vol. 1

Track-listing at end of review
Naji Hakim; Marie-Bernadette Dufourcet (organ)
rec. 26-27 March 2013, Palacio Euskalduna de Bilbao, Spain
SIGNUM SIGCD389 [60:56]

‘Organ music doesn’t get more contemporary than these invigorating and provocative pieces’, I wrote in my preamble to an earlier disc in the Hakim plays Hakim series (review). That’s certainly true of this new collection, in which the Lebanese-born composer. organist and pedagogue is joined by his wife Marie-Bernadette Dufourcet for the thirteen-movement four-hander, Die Apostel. (The Apostles). Appropriately enough these up-to-the-minute works are played on the ultra-modern Schuke organ in the Palacio Euskalduna de Bilbao, Spain. This impressive concert hall – home to the Bilbao Symphony – is part of a multi-purpose complex that opened in 1999. As the CD’s extended title implies this is just the first in a series of recordings planned for that venue.

What appeals to me about Hakim is his forensic but engaging intellect and his boundless energy, which feed into works that are sometimes daunting but never dull. It’s also good to be reminded that there is so much new and rewarding repertoire for the organ; apart from that earlier Hakim disc I must also alert listeners to a stimulating album in which Jan Lehtola plays organ pieces by Kalevi Aho (review). The present CD opens with a now mercurial, now Gothic Toccata that reveals an organ of splendid range and stability. No wheezes and clanks here, just the very discreet noises one would expect from a well-behaved modern instrument.

Hakim's three-movement Petite Suite – which takes its cue from the Spanish baroque organ – is dedicated to his wife, who is something of an expert in the field. The registration of Diferencias brings out the woody, sometimes nasal side of this splendid organ. After this animated and colourful opener comes the high-lying, wonderfully ethereal Falsas; the concluding Batalla has a strong antiphonal element that’s well caught in this full, very detailed recording. The hall’s acoustic is a little dry, but the upside is that there is no echo to swamp inner detail or blur the music’s well-defined edges.

Die Apostel is based on a series of woodcuts by the German Renaissance artist Lucas Cranach the Elder (c. 1472-1553). As Hakim points out in his liner-notes he draws on appropriate musical antecedents here; for example, the Gregorian antiphon Tu es Petrus in Die Heiligen Petrus and a Gregorian Alleluia from the feast of St Simon and St Jude in Der heilige Simon und der heilige Judas Thaddäus. This was post-Reformation Germany, so the artist and his son are represented among the elect as well.

It’s a glorious work, whose moments of reflection and ecstasy that brings to mind the sound world of Olivier Messiaen. That said, there’s a mobility and – dare one say it – a quick wit that ensures Die Apostel is stripped of superfluous religiosity. Hakim’s artful treatment of source material and this duo’s lively playing make for a hugely entertaining piece that passes far more quickly than its multi-part structure might suggest. I particularly admired the genial, somewhat burbling portrait of the artist – Der heilige Jakobus der Ältere – and the gentle solemnity of Der heilige Johannes.

What also impresses me about this music is its method: it’s transparent and refreshingly direct, with no sign of precocity in either the music or the playing. In a phrase, Hakim wears his prodigious talents lightly, and it’s always a joy to find a composer/performer who achieves that rare state. Mme Hakim makes a sympathetic partner, and there’s a wonderful sense of two musicians really listening to each other and responding accordingly. The younger Cranach is energetically drawn and Paul is dignified in music that embraces both weight and a pleasing lightness of touch. This is a gorgeous score, brimming with invention, and it’s one I'd happy to revisit time and again.

The Signum team deserve a mention in despatches, for they have come up with a clean, unexaggerated recording that does full justice to both the music and the organ. It would be so easy to turn this into a ‘hi-fi spectacular’, but as their Nolan/Widor cycle confirms that is not their way. The paraphrase on Schubert’s Ave Maria finds Hakim in free-flowing, Lisztian mode – in the best sense – and the Hommage à Jean Langlais combines buoyancy with a satisfying body of sound. Apart from the expected Langlais quotations there’s more than a hint of Parisian street music too.

As its title implies the five-movement Esquisses Grégoriennes is a set of plainsong paraphrases. As before Hakim takes these ancient progressions and filters them through a modern lens, with surprising results. Each one seems so fresh and individual; they’re also scored with economy and grace, the loveliest of combinations. Indeed, Hakim’s choice of registrations is perfect, and this noble instrument impresses even when it has to lift its skirts and dance. That’s exactly what it does in the concluding part of Arabesques; also dedicated to Mme Hakim these are deceptively light but intricately wrought pieces, full of character and point.

I haven’t enjoyed an organ collection this much in ages. Hakim the composer and performer are shown at their considerable best, and Signum have obliged with an exemplary recording. The composer’s concise, very readable notes are an added bonus.

Just fabulous: music that revives the jaded palate.

Dan Morgan
http://twitter.com/mahlerei

Track-listing
Toccata (2011) [4 :11]
Petite Suite (1983)
I. Diferencias [3:33]
II. Falsas [1:17]
III. Batalla [3:43]
Die Apostel (2011)
I. Der Heiland [0:42]
II. Der heilige Petrus [1:58]
III. Der heilige Andreas [0:40]
IV. Der heilige Jakobus der Ältere [1:13]
V. Der heilige Johannes [1:37]
VI. Der heilige Philippus [0:43]
VII. Der heilige Bartolomäus [1:39]
VIII. Der heilige Thomas [0:50]
IX. Der heilige Matthäus [0:57]
X. Der heilige Jakobus der Jüngere [1:14]
XI. Der heilige Simon und der heilige Judas Thaddäus [2:21]
XII. Der heilige Matthias [1:13]
XIII. Der heilige Paulus [1:27]
Ave Maria (Fantasy on a song by Franz Schubert) (2012) [3:38]
Hommage à Jean Langlais (2006) [7:31]
Esquisses Grégoriennes (2006)
I. Nos autem [2:11]
II. Ave maris stella [2:25]
III. Pater noster [1:20]
IV. Ave verum [2:03]
V. O filii et Filiae [3:15]
Arabesques (2009)
I. Prélude [0:46]
II. Pastorale [1:12]
III. Libanaise [1:08]
IV. Arabesque [0:58]
V. Litanie [0:42]
VI. Rondeau [4:29]