EL-KHOURY: Orchestral Works (Colonne Orchestre/ Pierre Dervaux) (Naxos: 8.557691)
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Bechara El-Khoury (b. 1957)
Bechara El-Khoury was born in Beirut in 1957 and started hismusical studies in the Lebanon, before moving in 1979 to Paris to complete histraining with Pierre-Petit, then Director of the Ecole Normale de Musique. Bythe time he decided to settle in the French capital, he already had a dualreputation as the composer of some hundred works written between 1969 and 1978,and as a poet, with several collections published from 1971 onwards, inaddition to his intensive activity as a pianist, conductor, chorus-master, andas a writer of articles in the press. An important concert of El- Khoury'sworks was given in Paris on 9 December 1983 by the Orchestre Colonne underPierre Dervaux with the collaboration of the pianist Abdel Rahman El-Bacha, aspart of the celebration of the centenary of Khalil Gibran. Several of the worksincluded here had their world premi?¿re on this occasion, the Symphonic PoemNo. 1: Lebanon in Flames
, the Requiem: For the Lebanese Martyrs in theWar
, the Symphonic Picture: The Gods of the Earth
and the SymphonicSuite: Night and the Fool
. In 1987 El-Khoury took out French citizenship.
His works have been played by distinguished orchestras, including the London SymphonyOrchestra, the Orchestre National de France, the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra,the Paris Orchestre Colonne, the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, the Orchestre Symphonique Fran?ºais, and others.
Pierre-Petit wrote about the composer: 'Bechara El- Khoury'smusic is deeply rooted in the soil of his own country but his solid knowledgeof western technique allows him to attempt with success the delicate amalgamationof oriental sensibility with the language of Europe. The harmonic proceduresthat he uses certainly emanate from the grand classical tradition, but he hasan individual style that ensures the constant presence of this magic andbewitching Orient from which he comes, without falling into false showiness or cheapcolouring. Without doubt he is one of those very rare beings who knows how toreconcile the irreconcilable, without ever deviating from a line of conductthat leads him irresistibly from the shores of romanticism towards the mostcontemporary modes of expression.'El-Khoury brings back to the music of today the expressionof personal feeling, of passion and of emotion. In an interview with BrunoSerrou he said: 'I am an enthusiast for freedom and accept no sectarianism. Iwrite as I feel, while taking into account the evolution of the world. I refuseto break with the past, which for me is a stimulus, an asset. Music ought to bethe reflection of human feelings and a universal language'. Sensible to thebeauties as well as the miseries of the world, the composer realises one of hisdeepest convictions 'to put into music human nature and its passions'. Thepredominance of the narrative aspect in his works is at the origin of hispreference for free form, proceeding rhapsodically in a succession of contrastedsections, subject to the development of poetic feeling. Even when he tacklestraditional abstract forms such as the sonata, he never uses pre-established patternsforeign to the vital impulse of his creative imagination. Up to his Op. 23 thetechnical means he uses remain faithful to the idea of tonality, not to a traditionaltonality, based on the evolutionary idea of a progress amid a series ofmodulations, but rather of a tonality conceived as a point of reference, afixed pole.Image symphonique
, Op. 26, ushers in a new phase, tonally freer and bolder, that has its fullerdevelopment in the Meditation poetique
for violin and orchestra (Naxos 8.557692). The character of the composer is directed towards greater concision, and tendsto contrast, as they develop, emotional states with greater rapidity. Theorchestration, always richly worked, gives an impression of wide spaces byusing the main sections of the orchestra in groups, clearly as against lightertextures that favour rather writing for solo instrumental sounds. In the latterthe composer's taste for instruments that give romantic colour, such as theclarinet or the horn, is apparent.
, Op. 9, with the subtitle Danse des aigles
(Dance of the Eagles) is surely one of El- Khoury's most brilliant andextravert pieces. Composed in 1980, this miniature, with its richorchestration, its melismas in oriental colouring, and the wild character of itsrhythms, is in the direct tradition of Russian or Armenian musicians such asKhachaturian. This work fully deserves to be placed alongside the most famous andmost spectacular symphonic dances of the twentieth century.
Dedicated to Pierre Dervaux, the Image symphonique
, Op. 26, subtitled Les Dieux dela terre
(The Godsof the Earth), originates in a poem by Khalil Gibran. This score, composed in1982, tends to use free chromaticism, recalling in a way the language of Penderecki'smost recent works. Except in the extreme parts of the work, the composer seemsto abandon here the long dreamy periods that characterized his earlier compositions.
On the contrary he operates by touches and quickly contrasts dense orchestraltextures with others that are lighter, sometimes solo, symbolizing visions thatclash against one another to a faster rhythm. The surprising final bars,entrusted only to the brass, are like a Wagnerian reminiscence.
The Suite symphonique,
Op. 29, 'La nuit etle fou'
(Night andthe Fool) was written in Paris in 1982. Like the Image symphonique
, 'Lanuit et le fou'
was inspired by a poem of Khalil Gibran. The two movementsare strongly unified by the use of related thematic material. Remarkable in itsconcision, the opening Lento
soon exploits the impressionistic touchesof the woodwind, a lyrical clarinet theme, a frenzied rhythmic idea, evoking,in a way, Messiaen, and later a solemn brass chorale. The Misterioso
startsatonally. Here the clarinet theme from the first movement permeates the whole piecein various guises. The tense atmosphere is barely illuminated towards the endby a long phrase from the upper strings, which marks, through its diatonic character,a serener contrast. The end of the work is starker in character.
The second piece in the trilogy inspired by the tragedy of Lebanon, Requiem
, Op. 18, dedicated to the 'Lebanese martyrs of the war', was written in Beirut in December 1980. The tonality of B flat minor gives the work its funereal andtragic character. The introduction, one of the darkest passages by El-Khoury,brings a phrase full of threatening and mournful chromaticism on the lowerstrings, trombones and tuba, while the entry of the horns and trumpets, overthe scattered outbursts from the bass drum, is stamped with solemnity. Thefuneral lament begins when a tonic pedal of B flat is heard from the lowerstrings and timpani. The principal theme, exceptionally long and the source ofa number of later motifs, is then stated by violins and violas. The work thendevelops in a succession of episodes with feelings that are sometimes violentand dramatic, symbolizing the struggle against despair, and sometimes reservedand turned inwards, marking resignation before the inescapable. Shortly beforethe end, a final eruption of revolt, marked Patetico
, in 5/4 metre,reveals a rich polyphonic conception in chromatic and orchestral writing that suggestsScriabin. The work ends with a return of the funeral procession and theprincipal theme.
The Po?¿me symphonique No. 1
, Op. 14, composed in Beirut in July 1980, with the subtitle Le Liban en flammes
(Lebanon in Flames), is inspired by a poem by El-Khoury, written in the middle of the war,in 1976. It is the first panel of the triptych devoted to the dramatic eventsof the war in Le