Mohammed Fairouz: “Critical Models” (CD Review)

Critical Models: Chamber Works of Mohammed Fairouz
Katie Reimer, piano; Claire Cutting, oboe; James Orleans, double bass; Jonathan Engle, flute; Maarten Stragier, classical guitar; Vasko Dukovski, clarinet; Rayoung Ahn, violin; Michael Couper, alto saxophone; Thomas Fleming, bassoon; Lydian String Quartet
Dorian Sono Luminus CD

Composer Mohammed Fairouz is one of a number of twenty-something contemporary classical composers who revel in the postmillennial polyglot atmosphere, where frequent shifts of stylistic demeanor are worn as badges of courage rather than markers of indecision. But writing convincingly in one style is challenging enough: chops-wise, a composer has to be loaded for bear in order to bring off the many signatures polystylists seek to incorporate.

Critical Models, a portrait CD featuring Fairouz’s chamber music, reflects a composer with a fertile mind and considerable technical acumen. An omnivore, if a somewhat conservative one, Fairouz tends to favor neoclassical models: Stravinsky and Hindemith are frequent touchstones. One can hear their spectres in “Litany,” a bucolic piece for double bass and wind quartet. There’s also more than a whisper of Schoenberg in the angular passages of “Lamentation” for string quartet, a work played on the CD with particular ardor by the Lydian Quartet.

Perhaps via osmosis from his own studies at Curtis and New England Conservatory, Fairouz is fond of emulating the Postwar American conservatory set – Persichetti, Mennin, and Schuman – in their explorations of pandiatonism, mixed meters, and dissonant counterpoint.  One particularly hears these referents in his Six Piano Miniatures, idiomatic works that, apart from the poignant final movement, “Addio,” seem slighter than others on the disc, with the possible exception of the serviceable but often plodding Airs for solo guitar.

The title work is more formidable. A duo for alto saxophone and violin, it adroitly surveys each of the aforementioned stylistic categories singly in separate movements. Also included is a movement entitled “Catchword” that cannily references Nonwestern music. In each of these stylistic portraits, Fairouz seamlessly adopts a different compositional persona. While his versatility is admirable, one still awaits a thorough synthesis of these various demeanors into a durably individual voice.

On Thursday 1/19 at 8 PM, Fairouz presents “Resistance: Chamber and Vocal Music of Mohammed Fairouz” at Weill Recital Hall. Performers include Imani Winds, the Transatlantic Ensemble, soprano Mellissa Hughes, and clarinetist David Krakauer.

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