LABELS: Grand Piano
ALBUM TITLE: Lebanese Piano Music
WORKS: Works by Fleihan, Khoury, Gelalian, Baz and Succar
PERFORMER: Tatiana Primak-Khoury (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: GP 715
Western classical music has long had a foothold in Lebanon, thanks partly to the French mandate after 1920 – even today, many Lebanese speak French as a second mother-tongue – and thanks partly to the fact that when Armenians fled there in droves during the Turkish genocide, many fine classical musicians fled with them. So it’s no surprise that the one major figure among the otherwise minor-league composers on this disc should be Armenian: Boghos Gelalian began earning his living as a nightclub pianist, went on to play a key role in the popularisation of Arabic classical music, and stoically continued to give lessons in counterpoint throughout the worst days of the Lebanese civil war. His piano sonata Tre Cicli is a supremely accomplished work, with a fine command of piano sonorities in the turbulent outer movements, and grave beauty in its Adagio maliconico; both this and his graceful Canzona e Toccata deserve a place in the standard concert repertoire.
Georges Baz is another composer comfortable in his skin, and the miniatures of his Esquisses are an elegant tribute to Debussy and the French impressionists; Toufic Succar’s Variations sur un theme Oriental are pure pastiche-Beethoven, and none the worse for that. Anis Fuleihan, whose Piano Sonata No. 9 Tatiana Primak-Khoury plays with easy authority – like everything else on the disc – draws inspiration from Bartók and Stravinsky, but with this music one senses a deeper identity-unease.
Houtaf Khoury is the youngest composer here and was schooled in the Ukraine: his Piano Sonata No. 3 Pour un instant perdu… bodies forth the ideas he has expressed to the writer of the programme note. He despairs of his country’s political class, and pins his hope on its artists: one hears Shostakovich hovering over the questioning first movement, the second moves ominously beneath an ice-cold surface, and the last ends sadly with a gesture of impotence.