Of the Middle East-born composers currently working across Europe, Naji Hakim is by far the most important. This very gifted Lebanese organist-composer had a spectacular early career as a student and went on to succeed Olivier Messiaen as organist of the Trinite in Paris in 1985, since when, upon leaving that post, he has become one of the truly Significant organist-composers of our time.
His music is mainly written for the organ, of course, but Hakim has also composed a Violin Concerto and four Organ Concertos, an oratorio Saul of Tarsus (to a French text) and three settings of the Mass. Now 55, Hakim is at the height of his powers, as this remarkable new CD amply demonstrates.
I shall come to the music later, but the most immediately striking thing about this disc—apart from the excellence of the recording quality—is the brilliance and virtuosity of the performances. One might think that a composer will be able to play his own music as well as, if not better than, other organists, but as with composer-instrumentalists in other musical fields, that is certainly not necessarily always the case. As with his predecessors—Tournemire, Widor, Dupre, Messiaen, Malcolm Williamson and others—the existence of recordings of major organ music played by the composers themselves adds a definite supplement to the printed page and, as Hakim is such a virtuoso, recordings such as this are a considerable bonus.
As for the music itself, like almost all Middle-Eastern composers working broadly within what one might call a European art-music environment, Hakim concentrates upon building up larger musical structures from quite small individual movements, often appearing to essentially western ears as suites but with an underlying thread. Such an approach does not seem difficult to grasp for non-Middle Eastern ears, but it is a characteristic that is certainly notable in Hakim's music here.
This is not meant as a criticism, merely a statement of fact, and within what might first appear to be a constricting compositional strait-jacket, the results are astonishingly original and impressive. What is also particularly interesting about these pieces is that most of them have their provenance in southern Scandinavia, either commissioned by, or specially written for, organists and particular churches in Northern Europe. For example, the 12 Sakskobing Praeludier are modern-day chorale-preludes founded upon Danish hymns (Hakim has written two versions of the set, for organ and for chamber ensemble) and for me the absolutely outstanding movement is 'Hil dig, Freiser og Forsoner!' ('Hail you, Saviour and Atoner! '), a quite brilliant piece, staggeringly well played on the (most suitable) van den Heuvel organ of Danish State Radio. There are many other movements here, so varied in that the Christian ethos which informs many of Hakim's pieces sits surprisingly well alongside Aalaiki 'ssalaam (' Peace be with you'), a theme and variations inspired by the tragic events that occurred in the Middle East and particularly Lebanon in 2006. The work is dedicated to Or Franz Hauk, organist of the Liebfrauenkirke, Ingolstadt, and is published by Schott.
Every one of the pieces on this disc is worth the attention of any serious music lover who is interested in developments in modern music outside of the avant garde and the relevance of such music to modern society at large. I regard this as an important recording and I recommend it unreservedly, my only doubt being that the year of composition of each of these pieces is nowhere shown in the booklet.