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Much of El-Khoury's output has poetic connotations though several works remind us of events which have scarred recent history; such items include a triptych recalling the war in Lebanon (The Ruins of Beirut, 1985, Lebanon in Flames, 1980 and Requiem for Orchestra, dedicated to the martyrs of war). More recently New York, Tears and Hope Op 65 became a memorial to victims of 9/11.

Despite these cruel stains on the pages of modern history the composer's overriding optimism is rarely entirely absent as is evident in his generic work The Rivers Engulfed Op 64. He says: 'It speaks of love between people and of peace in our world.'

The present El-Khoury concert, the third of four in this enterprising Naxos series has another 66 minutes of rich, masterly crafted orchestral music ... undeniably rewarding listening.

It is devoted solely to works from the period 1980-1986; the elegiac string serenades (1980/1981), Two Poèmes No 1 (1980) and No 2 (1981) for Piano and Orchestra, the first somewhat reminiscent of Rachmaninov -- both with soloist David Lively. In addition there's the rhapsodic, twenty-five-minute Piano Concerto (1984) featuring Queen Elisabeth of Belgium 1978 Competition winner Abdel Rahman El Bacha; pupil of Marguerite Long and Jacques Fevrier.

Naxos' opening item, the lyrical Méditation poétique for violin and orchestra (1986) spotlights soloist Gerard Poulet, son of famed violinist and conductor Gaston Poulet (1892-1974).

This seven plus minute Méditation is a sparing and somber essay; aptly titled and politely received by the 1998 Salle Pleyel audience. An abrupt change of mood erupts with the stormy passages announcing the 'Drammatico' opening [listen -- track 2, 0:00-1:29] to Piano Concerto Op 36; a movement combining allusive French-style interludes and declamatory interjections. The second Poétique movement juxtaposes limpid and rhapsodic passagework in stark contrast to the busy Solennellement -- a finale rich in urgent inventive bravura though less solemn than the title indicates.

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Copyright © 6 November 2007 Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand


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