Organ & Winds

Ouverture libanaise
Serenade in E flat for 13 wind instruments, Op.7
Messe de la Pentecôte – Entrée (Les langues de feu); Sortie (Le vent de l’esprit)
Offrande au Saint-Sacrement
La Nativité du Seigneur – Dieu parmi nous
Serenade in D minor, Op.44
In organo, chordis et choro

Naji Hakim (organ)

London Winds
Michael Collins (clarinet/director)

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 9 August, 2004
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

The 2004 Proms celebrate the Royal Albert Hall organ – a magnificent instrument with a new mechanism, 220 additional pipes and a performance-saving CD facility.

Naji Hakim was born in Beirut and trained in France. He is a prolific composer and a formidable improviser. In terms of style, he is eclectic – characterising his music as “incorporating popular themes grounded in tonality but augmented by diatonic or oriental modes.” In terms of inspiration, he declares himself single-minded, ever continuing “to draw from the well of spirituality and in the light of God’s gaze upon mankind.”

He has a ferocious talent, a wicked sense of humour and crashing, rumbling virtuosity. He produces majesty of sound, but is equally at home in tickling out the light-hearted jollity I remember from cinema organs in my youth. The Ouverture libanaise popularly, and sometimes vulgarly, draws on and embellishes melodies from his country of birth, including the Lebanese national anthem. In organo, chordis et choro, also composed in 2001, evokes jubilant post-Christmas processing, a heady mixture of Gregorian chant and cheeky popular airs.

The Messiaen pieces showed off the organ further – delivering a gentler, nobler spirituality, yet still robust and exploratory. Vividly, we heard flames flicker in the ‘Tongues of Fire’ and the breeze waft in the ‘Gentle Wind of the Spirit’. The ‘Offrande au Saint Sacrement’ gave the surge in sound of prayers ascending and the nativity meditation ‘Dieu parmi nous’ manifested the beneficence of God descending and filling the air with a toccata of jubilation.

London Winds, under its founder Michael Collins, was a fit companion. The musicality of the players was beyond question. Ensemble, individual tonal quality, solo displays, and tempos, were beyond reproach. Even more commendable, alertness to differences of style and changes of nuance was exactly judged.The two pieces made a fascinating contrast. The young Richard Strauss began his Serenade in an idiom that acknowledged Mozart in Vienna.

Dvořák was in his late ‘thirties – more experienced. He, too, knew his Mozart – but his Serenade evokes Bohemian countryside. The dances are bucolic, lurching joyously from one tempo to another. Dvořák had clearly attended festivities and witnessed the nervous pomp of an opening ceremony, the tottering elegance of village elders and the rumbustious polka marking the culmination of proceedings (and the end of imbibing?). At the heart of all this merrymaking was the beautiful Andante – where the horn sings a yearning song for young lovers. The occasion, it seems, is too public and too brief for private passions. With loud sighs, the lovers part. Dvořák penned a picture in sound, without this being overt programme music.

London Winds reproduced this picture skilfully – and, above all, humanly. I thank the musicians, wholeheartedly.

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