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Lebanese Piano Music - Volume 2
Anis FULEIHAN (1900-1970)
Piano Sonata No. 4 (1951) [24:47]
Air and Fugue on White Keys (1943) [6:43]
Houtaf KHOURY (b.1967)
Piano Sonata No.4, ‘Sham’ (2016) [20:45]
Boghos GELALIAN (1927-2011)
Piano Sonata (1964) [12:19]
Waleed HOWRANI (b.1948)
Lebanese Rhapsody (1995) [13:41]
Tatiana Primak-Khoury (piano)
rec. Reitstadl, Neumarkt, Germany, 2017
GRAND PIANO GP812 [78:40]

Those with exploratory tastes are, month by month, quite well served. Although it is always possible to think of combinations and permutations not served (Sudani orchestral music, San Marino piano, Sri Lankan string quartets?) there is no reason to believe that any state or time has the monopoly on delightful music. Grand Piano who have already given us piano music: Cuban gp758 and Portuguese gp725 act as bellwether and belvedere and continue to advocate for what, from a “Western” perspective, might be considered outré or outlandish. They have already opened the five-bar gate with Lebanese Piano Music - Volume one (review ~ review) and here is the second, again under the tutelage and inspiration of pianist Tatiana Primak-Khoury.

Anis Fuleihan came of Lebanese parents, was born in Kyrenia, Cyprus and spent most of his life in the USA. In 1925 he became a US citizen and developed as a leading voice in the contemporary musical world. He conducted the NYPO frequently. Amongst many other works he wrote a Theremin Concerto which you can experience somewhere on YouTube.

Fuleihan’s Piano Sonata No. 4 is a meeting place, across four short movements, for the worlds of East and west Meet. Of these the first is determined and rhetorical while tshe Andantino (second) is plangent and cradling like an Irish folk-song. It is placid and induces inducing not sleep. Material recurs and reflects from one movement to another. This would work well alongside with the Dodecanese songs of Donald Swann (review ~ review) and Skalkottas’s more popular works (Greek Dances: review ~ review). The disc ends with Fuleihan's Air and Fugue on the White Keys. The calming air of its Largo paves the way for a nervy, at times fugal, kinetically driven Vivace. His music is moderately contemporary but Fuleihan rarely tacks far from tonality.

Living composer Houtaf Khoury's Sonata No 4 Sham dates from 2016 and is in three movements. They are Morass; Desolation; Sham. Morass is laden with bass-heavy threat but accelerates soon gathering hayride speed. Desolation reflects Lebanon’s civil war and the conflict in Syria. The headlong and rhythmically quick-ticking finale is called Sham. Khoury was born in Tripoli.
 
Boghos Gelalian's Piano Sonata of 1964 is also in three movements. Gelalian was of Armenian parentage and found himself in the Lebanon among an Armenian ‘ex-pat’ community fleeing the genocide being ruthlessly prosecuted in his homeland. The Sonata is an easy-flowing distinctly Rachmaninovian essay: an extremely pleasurable and assertive piece.

Also fascinating is Waleed Howrani's Lebanese Rhapsody. It’s a complex single-movement piece. Howrani's swirling aqueous and crystalline writing is obviously very testing and has an unmistakable North-African accent. Overall it feels more overtly ‘exotic’ than any of the other pieces here. The music ends with what amounts to a deafening scimitar slash of notes. It is not a difficult listen but that also applies to the Fuleihan, Gelalian or Khouri.

The enriching liner-essay extends to eight pages in English, German and French and is by Thorston Preuss. If not essential reading, it is certainly much more than ornament.

This is a generous ear-opening collection of what I take to be world premiere recordings. Benefiting from sound that is powerful and clear, the music may not be revolutionary (what is the intrinsic value in that anyway?) but it is revelatory. It also shows the extent to which these composers, who probably influenced the West, were influenced by the West but not lost in the influence.

Rob Barnett



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