Bechara El-Khoury is a Lebanese composer who was born in Beirut in 1957. Having lived through many experiences with that country it should come as no surprise that a large amount of his music is connected with themes such as the atrocities of the war in his homeland, peace, and the quest for brotherhood among disparate peoples. The two principal works on this recording express this.
The Rivers Engulfed is about the short time that man has when passing through life. The five movements, ‘Fog’, ‘Song of Silence’, ‘Alert’, ‘Struggle’, and ‘Song of the Rivers’ explore the various moral, physical, and spiritual endeavors that man must overcome and achieve in order to successfully pass through life in a meaningful manner. This is a nicely done tone poem that works musically even without the program notes.
New York, Tears and Hope (2001-2005) is a threnody dedicated to the victims of 9/11, to those who found themselves caught up in an extraordinary moment of human degradations and chaos, thru no fault of their own. The work is a powerful, static piece of music that allows a more meditative reflection on the events of that day, as opposed to trying to preach something in a more vociferously musical manner. It leads through shock and despair to the triumph of the human spirit and the necessity for remaining strong in the face of mindless oppression.
The Sextet for violins was written with the idea that at least six players needed to take part, but that multiples of each part were preferred. In this recording we have a total of 24 players—the violin section of the London Symphony. The piece is short, and was commissioned as part of the master classes of violinist Shlomo Mintz.
Waves is another tone poem, this time for piano alone, describing in vivid musical detail the rollicking and momentous motion of the waves of the ocean, waves that, according to the composer, can be “the origin of several tragedies, wiping out cities and peoples, with the violence of a flash of lightning”. The piece is chewy and affecting, parts of it even reminding me of George Crumb in the massive piano chords.
Forgotten Fragments is also for piano alone, and this time the program is not so definitive; indeed, it deals with themes and thematic cells in a way that will bring to mind some of Schoenberg’s piano music, albeit not as clearly structured. This is an interesting album, largely tonal, and certainly accessible. For the Naxos price it is an easy way to get to know this composer, and the performances and engineering are all unfailingly of high quality.
— Steven Ritter