, April 2007
There was always, even at the height of the serialist stranglehold on academia through the 1950s and 1960s, an unstoppable current of neo-Romanticism. And for that matter, maybe it is time to acknowledge that the "neo" can be dropped, as there has never been a break in the popularity of the Romantic movement since it began in the beginning of the 19th century. The steady trickle of a previous generation has now become a flood; there is no longer a trace of reticence in wearing one's heart on one's sleeve.
Lebanese born and French educated, Bechara El-Khoury is solidly in this camp. His music is lyrical and colorful, with a sense for timbre blending that enhances those strengths. Colleague Robert Carl did not care much for a previous Naxos release of EI-Khoury's orchestral music (Fanfare 30:1), and although I have not heard that CD, it can be supposed that the "turgid" and "meandering" qualities that left Carl uninspired are mitigated by the theatrical element of solo instruments, here, violin and piano. All three works for orchestra and piano share a melodramatic reminiscent of mid-20th century “wrong note modernism.” That is, there are splashes of dissonance, and bunches of clangy fistfuls of notes, but it is all within a tonal, even mushy context. The Piano Concerto opens with a timpani roll that briefly evokes Brahms, but there is not a continuation of the German master's distilled and linear passion. Think, instead, of something like the exciting and gaudy Khachaturian Piano Concerto.
Interestingly, Carl noted in his review that he heard some promise in the newest of the music on the CD he was reviewing. And without a doubt, the most compelling music on the CD at present is the most recent, the Meditation for violin and orchestra. This rather haunting piece is noticeably more adventurous harmonically and in terms of a subtle sense of theatricality than the rest of the program. It doesn't rescue the whole album for me, but I can imagine listeners who favor a sweet and smooth sound from contemporary composers enjoying this material. At the Naxos price, it is certainly worth a listen.