Tuesday, 10 March 2015

A rather special release of music by Mohammed Fairouz on a debut release from Deutsche Grammophon

Mohammed Fairouz (b.1985) http://mohammedfairouz.com , a resident of New York City, studied at the Curtis Institute and New England Conservatory and composition under György Ligeti, Gunther Schuller, and Richard Danielpour. His compositions, that incorporate Middle-Eastern modes into Western structures, include symphonies, an opera, song cycles, ensemble works, chamber and solo pieces, choral settings, and electronic music.

Described as one of the most talented composers of his generation a complete disc of his works has now been released by Deutsche Grammophon entitled Follow, Poet. www.universalmusicclassics.com/mohammed-fairouz-follow-poet-marks-the-deutsche-grammophon-debut-by-the-acclaimed-young-american-composer-out-january-27

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This new release marks Fairouz’s debut for Deutsche Grammophon and the first release in Universal Classics’ Return to Language series. This new release includes the song cycle Audenesque and music for the ballet Sadat alongside two speeches made by John F. Kennedy and the poems set by Fairouz by Seamus Heaney and W. H. Auden read by the poet Paul Muldoon.

This new release opens with a recording of John F. Kennedy making a speech concerning ‘when power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations…when power corrupts, poetry cleanses.’

Audenesque (2012) sets poems by W. H. Auden and Seamus Heaney, performed here by Kate Lindsey http://katelindsey.com with Ensemble LPR http://ensemblelpr.com conducted by Evan Rogister www.askonasholt.co.uk/artists/conductors/evan-rogister . The first three sections of this work set Auden’s In Memory of W. B. Yeats.

A repeated orchestral motif opens Audenesque I before the music quietens and varies before mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey enters with the words ‘He disappeared in the dead of winter.’ This is a finely shaped performance of this fine, expressive setting with a particularly fine hushed passage at the words ‘The provinces of his body revolted,’ a haunting section sung with impressive sensitivity by Lindsey. The repeated motif in the strings signals an increase in tempo as the soprano sings ‘But in the importance and noise of tomorrow’ rising to a peak of intensity to end.

Pizzicato basses quietly open Audenesque II before Kate Lindsey mezzo soon enters. Fairouz shows himself to be wonderfully adept at word setting, shaping the words with an unfailing sensitivity and understanding.

Audenesque III has a lovely rhythmic lilt, finely orchestrated, with short orchestral interludes to point up the texts before the soloist re-enters. There are many fine instrumental details adding variety with this mezzo-soprano bringing much fine understanding and emotional thrust to this setting.

The final part of this work, Audenesque IV, sets Seamus Heaney’s poem Audenesque. It often has a rather playful feel, picking up on Auden’s often macabre text. Lindsey copes wonderfully with the emotional changes and varying rhythmic tempi, before rising in intensity.  

This is a substantial, impressive and richly emotional setting, finely orchestrated and wonderfully sung.

Following the song cycle the Pulitzer Prize winning Irish poet Paul Muldoon reads from Seamus Heaney’s poem Audenesque, something of a real bonus to this disc given how wonderfully read it is.

Another speech by John F. Kennedy follows concerning the necessity of the freedom of the artist.

Snapshots from the life of the late Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, are the basis for Mohammed Fairouz’s ballet for percussion and chamber orchestra, Sadat (2013).

In five scenes, July 23rd, 1952 remembers the Free Officers Movement that led the Egyptian revolution and included such figures as Anwar Sadat, Mohammed Naguib and Gamal Abdel-Nasser. A repeated string theme pointed up by a xylophone opens before leading into a theme from the xylophone. Soon the orchestra takes the theme with the xylophone in the accompanying role. The music then speeds with the xylophone prominent throughout. This is very finely written with many delicate details before the music leads to staccato outbursts. A quieter passage is reached,  before the return of the opening string theme and a quiet coda.

Jehan is the name of Sadat’s wife-to-be, a lyrical scene where a repeated clarinet note leads into a quiet, slow cello theme with gentle, hushed marimba accompaniment. The theme is shared around a variety of instruments before the cello continues to weave its lovely rich line. This is a most exquisitely written piece. There is an extended marimba section before the woodwind return to lead to the coda.

The Death of Nasser – The Leader opens with roles from a tenor drum. Brass enter with deep growls from the basses but soon a funeral march with tenor drum and sighing strings lead the way forward with a deep resonant string theme. Soon there is a sudden outburst but the music quietens with a lovely string theme over an insistent background string motif. A flute, then bassoon, share a theme with a gentle cymbal to add occasionally to the rhythm before the hushed end.

The shofar (ram’s horn) sounds out continually in the opening of Jerusalem, a scene that recalls Sadat’s visit to address the Knesset. Tubular bells chime along with the shofar ‘fanfares’ as rest of the ensemble bring a light rhythmic theme. Drums join, adding to the texture with an overlaying of themes and motifs. A clarinet brings a quiet passage to which the strings join, as does the xylophone, taking the theme forward into the last scene.

The xylophone continues into the final scene, The Day the Leader was Killed, taking its name from the title of Naguib Mahfouz’s book on the assassination of Anwar Sadat. Soon incisive strings join, followed by woodwind before the strings bring a rather Eastern theme. The vibrant xylophone theme continues over the ensemble with brass adding to the texture before the music slows. There are dissonant wind outbursts with brass interventions as the music becomes more intensive, the xylophone still decisively pointing up the music which rises to the decisive coda.

This is another very fine work given a terrific performance here by Ensemble LPR conducted by Evan Rogister.

The three last tracks on this disc are readings of W. H. Auden’s In Memory of W.B. Yeats, the poems that are the texts for the first three sections of Fairouz’s Audenesque. They receive first class readings by Paul Muldoon who has a very natural way of presenting these verses, with a gentle thoughtfulness.

Deutsche Grammophon’s confidence in this fine young composer is amply rewarded.  It is a brilliant concept to include the readings of Auden and Heaney alongside Mohammed Fairouz’s fine settings.  

The recording in my download is excellent. This is rather a special disc.
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