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Album review: A fine sampler of music by hot young American composer Mohammed Fairouz

By John Terauds on May 28, 2013

fairouz

Although he is only in his late-20s, American composer Mohammed Fairouz has already written prolifically for chamber and symphonic collaborators. He has even written an opera. Thanks to a recent release by Naxos, we can sample some of his chamber music through some fantastic interpretations.

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.

informantThe title piece, Native Informant, is a 23-minute, five-movement sonata for solo violin written in 2011. Its commissioner, Rachel Barton Pine, gives it her all, really bringing the dramatically charged, largely tonal piece to life. The contrasting movements and thematic developments are an homage to classical Western sonata form, but the themes themselves are inspired by Arabic melodies, dances and rhythms (except for the occasional all-American cameo, such as the fiddle fandango in the Scherzo movement).

Another standout piece is a 6-minute 2010 Chorale Fantasy for string quartet, gorgeously rendered by the Borromeo String Quartet. Fairouz’s score is mesmerizing, taking full advantage of his four intertwined voices.

The Borromeos also play For Victims, a Holocaust-themed dramatic scene in music based on two poems by David Shapiro, commissioned by American Opera Projects.

The Imani Winds make fine work of Jebel Lebanon, a four-movement piece inspired by Lebanon’s suffering and rebirth over the past generation.

The oddest work on the album has to be Posh, a 2011 setting of three poems by Wayne Koestenbaum. They are partly nonsensical and partly deadly serious, sung with total commitment by Christopher Thompson (who labels himself a baritenor — I guess because lyric baritones are a as plentiful as dandelions) and piano accompanist Steven Spooner.

Koestenbaum writes of Fairouz’s short song cycle: “The three poems together don’t tell a story, but they suggest a covert bildungsroman, or a growth from a wordless baby. […] Irony, in his settings, is everywhere, but so is tenderness, as if the ghost of Poulenc were to speak, or sing, again, to remind us of what the future (embodied in Fairouz’s gift) still promises.”

I can’t possibly add anything to those eloquent words.

These are the world premiere recordings of all six pieces, the oldest dating from 2008. This album is a compelling portrait of an exceptional young talent ideally served by the best interpreters. It is also new music that can be embraced by people who would normally not darken the doors of a concert venue for anything written after 1939.

Check out the details here.

Here is Rachel Barton Pine in the second and third movements of Native Informant:

Here is For Victims, in a performance recorded in Brooklyn in 2011 with different performers: Baritone Ross Benoliel, violinist Sean Lee and Michelle Ross, violist Mary Young and Michael Katz on cello. The conductor is Jody Schum:

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
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