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Karim ELMAHMOUDI (b.1971)
Orbit: A Symphonic Fantasy (2012) [15:08]
Solemn Prologue (2010) [9:03]
Mythos (2008, 11) [9:57]
A Fragment(2006) [2:40]
Symphony (Adagio Excerpt) (2001) [4:38]
Ancient Dreams(2010) [16:55]
Macedonian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Oleg Kondratenko.
Ancient Dreams: Los Angeles Doctors Symphony Orchestra/Ivan Shulman.
rec. Skopje, Macedonia, 11 December 2012; Ancient Dreams: live, 11 Nov 2010, Ebell Lounge of Los Angeles. DDD
No label [58:23]

Quite apart from being an occasional reviewer for this website, Los Angeles-based Karim Elmahmoudi is a composer active in the concert hall, film, small screen and video games. He studied at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Apart from private studies with Alexis Alrich he also attended the University of Southern California's Thornton graduate school of music where his mentors included names familiar from the big screen including James Newton Howard and Joel McNeely. He also worked with film orchestrator Conrad Pope who in turn has worked as a contractor on Star Wars (Episodes I-III), Jurassic Park and Troy. He received the BMI Outstanding Achievement Award in 2007 for his coursework at USC.
 
With his favourite composers including John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Elliot Goldenthal, James Newton Howard and Bernard Herrmann it is no surprise that his music, as evidenced by this rather enjoyable CD, bears the grand DNA of the epic film score. Orbit, with its inspiration from the final NASA space flight, lacks nothing in braggadocio and unstoppable confidence borne on high by the huge orchestral dynamism of Williams and Shore. The melodic material is inevitably bound at times to recall Star Wars, Superman and ET but the later pages take a tincture from Bernard Herrmann at his most subtle. Thus the music fades into a rainbow shimmer of strings underpinned by a deeply brooding bass. At the end Elmahmoudi cannot resist the that epic valedictory fully stop with the orchestra at full stretch. This could easily be seen as music to James Michener’s fine novel: Space (1982).
 
Solemn Prologue is for string orchestra with a hauntingly prominent, reflective part for solo violin. The melodic contours are shared with Finzi’s Introit and the more gloriously indulgent film music of John Barry. Mythos is more aggressively incisive and heroic as befits music written for a CGI animated short about the battle between two mythical gods. This concert overture has had some new material added. It was premiered in 2008 and is heard now in its 2011 revision. The atmosphere changes for A Fragment which juxtaposes electronica, Varèse-like effects, a close-up piano line and full orchestra. The piece ends with a Pendereckian swoop. It is a bit of a gear-change to move from this to the Adagio rescued from Elmahmoudi’s teenage First Symphony. As expected it’s a broodingly ambitious piece, combining the restive and the calm.
 
Ancient Dreams is heard here in a performance given by the Los Angeles Doctors Symphony. With literary connections in mind this imaginative and well calculated music reminded me of Norman Mailer’s Ancient Evenings and of another piece of almost filmic eloquence: Michael Mauldin’s The Last Musician of Ur. This community orchestra makes a decent fist of the piece. As further scene-setting it’s worth quoting the composer: “In composing Ancient Dreams, I selected three concepts from the ancient Egyptian papyrus called The Dream Book (1279-1213 BC) …. and symbolically set them to music with a unifying theme that develops from mystery to a sense of determined heroism. The three sections are: Windows - a mysterious build up reflecting how people in ancient times believed the messages and symbols within dreams were often fearful images. Moon - a yearning yet hopeful lyrical section that builds to grand climax reflecting the desire to be forgiven for past misdeeds if one sees the moon in their dreams. Sphinx - a bombastic and climactic section focusing on a dream of uncovering the sphinx. The sphinx was a symbol of power, strength, and a foreboding guardian to malevolent spirits in the afterlife.” Ancient Dreams is heard here in a single track. The recording is of a live performance greeted with enthusiastic applause. The other tracks reflect well- polished studio sessions.
 
This incident-rich music represents a confident and highly-coloured calling card for a composer of whom I am sure we will hear more.
 
Rob Barnett

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