MOHAMMED FAIROUZ: “No Orpheus” = Soloists – Naxos

by | Feb 14, 2016 | Classical CD Reviews

MOHAMMED FAIROUZ: “No Orpheus” = Refugee Blues; Jeder Mensch; No Orpheus; Three Fragments from ‘Ibn Khafajah’; The Stolen Child; After the Revels; We Are Seven; Annabel Lee – Kate Lindsay, mezzo-sop./Kiera Duffy, sop,/Christopher Burchett, bar./ ensemble – Naxos 8.559783, 61:39 (2/12/15) ***1/2:

Another side to this young dynamic composer.

I have followed the music and career of Mohammed Fairouz for several years now and have been consistently impressed with his writing and his philosophy on music as a reflective art form. Indeed, many of his works use his own culture and background to make strong, but often optimistic, statements about the melding of cultures and the need to use history to guide our thoughts and perspectives. He is very talented, gifted and personable young man with much to offer as he becomes of one of America’s brightest young stars.

This collection of – essentially – art songs by Mohammed both proves his versatility but also raises an eyebrow or two along the way. Several of these selections in fact do not even really sound like the Mohammed Fairouz that I – and others – are familiar with. The music along the way sounds at times like straight up lieder, at other times like various ethnic musics and even – at times – a bit like musical theater.

The songs cover a breadth of time from about 2005 in The Stolen Child, after Yeats, to the most recent; Annabel Lee, after Poe, from 2015. There is a reason why Jeder Mensch sounds a bit “German” in my mind; as it was written for Kate Lindsey and reflects her fascination – and Fairouz’s – with Alma Mahler and her diaries. The themes of inner strength and allowing her love for her very ‘larger than life’ husband to take precedence over her own talents come across quite well.

Another highlight to this collection is the title set, No Orpheus. This set of three songs for mezzo-soprano and cello is set to poems by Lloyd Schwartz in the death of his mother. Fairouz reacted to the tone of these texts as he was dealing with the loss of his grandmother; a very significant person in his childhood. The result is a beautiful set of songs on the theme of loss and failing capacity of the dying. This is a most rewarding work.

The other larger work is the opening Refugee Blues which uses traditional blues elements to convey the very disturbing context of the text W.H. Auden; that of refugees from the horrors of the Holocaust. This, too, is quite effective.

My take on this set of songs is that first, and foremost, we get to hear a different approach from Fairouz. These songs are, of course, of a more intimate scale than many of his best known works. They are, also, in many ways, a different ‘sound’ and ‘feel’ than many of his works. While I enjoyed them all, Jeder Mensch and No Orpheus remain my favorites.

It will be interesting to see where Mohammed’s very cosmopolitan and fluid style and approach take us next. Certainly there are several very different sounding compositions in his oeuvre thus far. In the meantime, I remain a big and supporter and am anxious to discover what is next. Personally, I am looking forward to his upcoming 2017 opera The New Prince about Machiavelli!

—Daniel Coombs

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