El Nour (Fatma Said)
Fatma Said (soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano), et al; (Warner Classics)
Songs by Ravel, Falla, Serrano, Berlioz, Gaubert, Lorca, Abdel-Rahīm, Hankash, Darwish, Elias Rahbani and Hosni
Fatma Said (soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano), Rafael Aguirre (guitar), Burcu Karadag (ney), Tim Allhoff (piano), Itamar Doari (percussion), Henning Sieverts (double bass), Tamer Pmarbasi (kanun); Vision String Quartet
Warner Classics 9029523360 64:57 mins
Exciting things are afoot in the restrained world of art-song. Egyptian soprano Fatma Said’s recital combines repertoire by familiar figures (Ravel, Berlioz) with those new to many: Gamal Abdel-Rahim, Najib Hankash, Sayed Darwish, Elias Rahbani and Dawood Hosni. Liner notes translated into Arabic underline Said’s desire to cross borders. Clever arrangements allow us to encounter shared visions across France, Spain and North Africa. Just as the Egyptian songs are mostly presented with typically Western instrumentations, the Western songs are performed with added Middle Eastern instruments, in what Said describes as a ‘very fine balance between authenticity and innovation’. There’s no tacky Orientalism here.
The breathy, soft-voiced ney (a Middle Eastern flute) brings magic to the sound. Falla’s Tus ojillos negros is so seductive, listeners will swoon, even more so as they slide into Serrano’s sublime canción ‘Marinela, Marinela’, sensitively accompanied by Rafael Aguirre on the guitar. Berlioz with castanets is a nice contrast.
The Egyptian songs are clustered at the end. Abdel-Rahim’s Ana bent el sultan is huge fun, offering an Arabic soundscape with modernist touches. Hankash’s Aatini Al Naya Wa Ghanni treats themes of poverty, injustice and faith. Darwish, who was poisoned by British occupying forces and died aged 31, composed 260 songs and various operettas; his style is conveyed in an attractive arrangement. It’s an appealing soundworld, produced to the highest standards, with confidence and imagination.
Recitals which combine innovation and appeal at this standard are a rarity. This is one to give all your friends.