Classical CD Reviews

FAIROUZ: ”Native Informant” = Tahwidah; Chorale Fantasy; Native Informant – Sonata for Solo Violin; Posh; For Victims; Jebel Lebnan – Soloists/Imani Winds – Naxos

Amazingly compelling work by this important new voice.

Published on April 18, 2013

MOHAMMED FAIROUZ: ”Native Informant” = Tahwidah; Chorale Fantasy; Native Informant – Sonata for Solo Violin; Posh; For Victims; Jebel Lebnan – Mellisa Hughes, sop./David Krakauer, clarinet/Borromeo String Q./Rachel Barton Pine, violin/Christopher Thompson, baritenor/Steven Spooner, p./David Kravitz, bar./Imani Winds – Naxos 8.559744, 78:22 ****:

Mohammed Fairouz is a young New York born composer whose music bridges styles, cultures and genres and, I must say, appeals to a wide audience, or at least it should. I first became familiar with his work through his chamber music collection, Critical Models on Sonus Luminus. I reviewed this disc for Audiophile Audition and recall commenting that I found his music very interesting but a little inconsistent for my tastes.

The present collection is my second exposure to his work and – to paraphrase my first review – I’m all in! This collection has a beautiful yet eerie feel to it throughout that sounds quite like he has found his own unique style that blends “east and west”. Just the opening Tahwidah (Lullaby), featuring the amazing clarinet work of David Krakauer and soprano Mellisa Hughes, is enough to get you hooked with a love poem that ends shockingly when we discover who the singer is singing to. (No “spoiler alert”… I urge you to listen to this piece) The beauty continues with the plaintive string quartet Chorale Fantasy but the it is the title work Native Informant, a long, dramatic, difficult and intense sonata for unaccompanied violin that keeps you listening. This is a sad but hopeful work that takes its cue from the ironic, sad and regrettable tensions that presently exist from the composer’s native Muslim world and the rest of the world; he makes a compelling case through music to slow down and think. Rachel Barton Pine gives another incredible performance.

The mood shifts a bit in Posh, a set of three songs for baritone and piano. The texts, after poetry by Wayne Koestenbaum, give a surreal tour through the imaginary life of a Jewish man who examines the death of music as given by one who perished in the Holocaust. The music is complex; neo-Romantic and a bit “French” and – at only eight minutes – this is one of the most deep contemporary song cycles I have heard, thanks in large part to baritone Christopher Thompson. A similarly striking mood is created with For Victims - a dramatic scene for baritone and string quartet. The texts by David Shapiro reflect on the atrocities of the Holocaust. The music is relentless in its impact and baritone David Kravitz gives a stirring performance. This riveting collection ends with Jebel Lebnan (Mount Lebanon) for wind quintet. This is another gripping and unforgiving look at man’s atrocity towards others; in this case it summons up the story of the Lebanese political despot responsible for massacres at refugee camps. The tone of the work shifts towards the hopeful by way of a closing Arab round dance in recognition of the Lebanese patron saint, Mar Charbel.

Mohammed Fairouz writes music from a cross-cultural, political and humanitarian perspective. The subjects, like the music, are frequently intense and a bit difficult but his music is bold, compelling, more than a little attractive and important. This is a bright, talented and unique young composer whose work should be heard.  I, for one, am going to listen again – more deeply – to Critical Models. This album is a great place to start for anyone unfamiliar with his work. Highly recommended!

—Daniel Coombs




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