Eric Stark conducts Fairouz’s Zabur

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

WORKS: Zabur
PERFORMER: Dann Coakwell (tenor), Michael Kelly (baritone); Indianapolis Children’s Choir; Indianapolis Symphonic Choir; Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra/ Eric Stark
CATALOGUE NO: 8.559803


Somewhere in the contemporary Middle East a young writer (Dawoūd) is marooned in a shelter with a group of his fellow citizens, as their city is bombed to pieces around them. In an attempt to make sense of the experience Dawoūd, a resurrected version of the Old Testament psalmist David, shares his songs of ‘sorrow, praise and wonder’ with the people in the shelter, as they await annihilation.

That is the basic scenario of Zabur, a new oratorio by the young Arab-American composer Mohammed Fairouz. It is, he says, ‘a sort of war requiem’ documenting ‘how war touches all human beings and, most notably, the children.’ The panic-stricken opening chorus reflects this, its tinny shards of orchestration rattling like shrapnel around the singers. Much of the music is, though, slower-moving and contemplative, in places stylistically recalling Philip Glass’s Akhnaten or Satyagraha, especially when the choirs recite a psalm in Arabic. The two solo parts, of Dawoūd and his companion Jibreel, are fairly large, and sung with evident commitment by Dann Coakwell and Michael Kelly. The choral contributions are well prepared, and particularly effective at Zabur’s touching conclusion.

The work’s putative message – that somehow art is capable of transcending the ravages wreaked by warfare and destruction – is debatable. This worthy live recording effectively provides the raw material for that debate to happen.


Terry Blain