Naji Hakim returns to disc on Signum with a new release of his own unique compositions for solo organ – performed on the magnificent Stahlhuth-Jann Organ of St Martin’s Church, Dudelange, Grand Duché du Luxembourg.
Hakim Plays Hakim: The Stahlhulh-Jann Organ of St Martin’s Church, Dudelange
What people are saying
"one of the finest organists in the world and a composer of no little significance … [Gershwinesca] brings this impressive issue to a brilliant conclusion" International Record Review, August 2012
"A walk on the wild side; an absolute must for adventure lovers." Musicweb International
Naji Hakim organ
Release date:5th Mar 2012
Organ music doesn’t get more contemporary than these invigorating and provocative pieces by the Lebanese-born Naji Hakim. Also, few in his field are more sought after as composer, performer or pedagogue. As a child he graduated from piano to organ, eventually studying with the influential Jean Langlais. In 1985 he became organist at Sacré Cœur, Paris, and succeeded Olivier Messiaen at Sainte-Trinité in 1993. He’s already recorded three discs for Signum; from Glenalmond College in Scotland (CD 130), the Danish Radio Concert Hall in Copenhagen (CD 222) and The American Church in Paris (CD 245).
In keeping with this eclectic spread of instruments and locations, Hakim’s latest offering comes from St Martin’s Church, Luxembourg. It’s an imposing pile, whose 1912 Stahlhuth organ was extensively refurbished and modernised by Thomas Jann in 2002. I first heard the instrument on Rédemption, a new recording from the Finnish organist Kalevi Kiviniemi – Fuga-9320 – and while it sounds impressive it seemed rather bright and overbearing in character. Then again, Hakim isn’t exactly reticent either, as his compositions and playing style so aptly demonstrate.
Bach’orama certainly captures the composer’s impish spirit, its baroque reserve co-existing with flamboyant dissonance. Hakim’s rhythmic dexterity is just astonishing, and the piece builds to a big, splashy finale that will either have you reaching for the eject button or craving more. Only too pleased to hear new and bracing repertoire played with such élan I stayed my hand and plunged into Jonquilles: three preludes based on Danish Easter hymns. This has an austere charm that couldn’t be more different from that distinctly modern homage to Bach. Hakim is full of surprises: the second prelude is quirky – funky, even – while the third is a striking blend of public majesty and private devotion.
What I admire most about these pieces and the way they’re played is that behind the virtuosic façade lies a tangential and inventive mind that articulates many conflicting and diverse ideas at once. The result is music of coherence and flair; and as a skilled improviser Hakim knows just when to stop. Even his eight-movement set of variations on the Lutheran chorale Ein’ feste Burg brims with character and colour. The whole is underpinned by delectable rhythms. Indeed, deftness and clarity are the watchwords here. All this warmth and detail is well caught by engineer Augustin Parsy.
Dipping into Rédemption I was struck by how different repertoire and recording set-ups can produce such divergent results. True, the Kiviniemi disc is devoted to French music that suits the heft of the Stahlhuth-Jann instrument, but the liquid loveliness of this organ in the Allegro moderato (tr. 10) is utterly unexpected. No doubt Hakim’s lightness of touch – not to mention his ear for catchy rhythms and sparkling sonorities – contributes to the appeal of this most memorable offering. What a find, and how beautifully constructed. As for that rousing, earthy finale it’s spectacularly done.
I’ve not responded so positively to an organ recording since I discovered Kiviniemi’s Fuga discs. The sheer eclecticism and energy of the seven-part Theotokos (Gr. Mother of God) is apt to take one’s breath away; it absorbs and expresses so many devotional styles and yet does so in such a seamless and compelling way. Not since Messiaen has the votive power of the organ been so keenly – and exuberantly – felt; just sample the hip-swaying, almost Evangelical, joy of Prière and the flighty Déclamation, neither of which prepares one for the mix of wild ecstasy and Eastern exoticism in the Finale. A sublime noise indeed.
Even the Salve Regina, so clearly founded on plainchant, emerges with a strange cast. Its quiet harmonies are beautifully pitched by the organist and most gratefully caught by the microphones. In a disc so full of discoveries this little piece is one of the most magical. It’s a remarkable and intensely moving synthesis of ancient and modern, of light and shade, and I hope its spell never fades. As for Gershwinesca, it may be self-explanatory but like everything else here it’s not at all self-regarding. Rarely have I heard organ playing of such spontaneity and good humour, or a homage born of such intuition and insight.
I have yet to hear Hakim’s other Signum discs, but if they’re even half as piquant and palate-cleansing as this they’ll be must-buys as well. Throw in good, basic liner-notes and organ specs and you have a very enticing package indeed.
A walk on the wild side; an absolute must for adventure lovers.
Musicweb International, Dan Morgan
In a society such as ours where it seems that almost every item of news emanating from the Middle East demonstrates man’s continuing hostility to man, it is relatively rare, but nonetheless welcome, to encounter examples of man’s creativity from that region. These we find in the music and performance skills of the Lebanese-born organist-composer Naji Hakim, for my money one of the finest organists in the world and a composer of no little significance.
Nor is Hakim’s output that which merely copies western European procedures, for it is good to be reminded of the universality of music, as we in the UK will experience in the visits from the Middle East of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and the National Youth Orchestra of lraq later this year. For us, it should be a two-way procedure, and this second volume of organ music by Hakim on the Signum label (the first was reviewed in April 2011), superbly played by the composer and excellently recorded on the rarely heard Stahlhuth-Jann instrument of St Marlin’s Church in Dudelange, Luxembourg, is both welcome and valuable.
Its value lies in the fact that society may, in certain circumstances, be becoming more fragmented than is good for it: the fractiousness of science versus religion may have led to creationists attacking Darwinism, or scientists not reading the Bible, but the inescapable fact remains that the first chapter of Genesis outlines the creation of the world in a sequence which is virtually identical to that proposed by Darwinists less than 200 years ago (apart from a fleeting reference, man does not appear until Chapter 2, after the world has been created), the evolutionary nature of Darwinism merely echoing creationism, albeit in more detail.
The results for us are that artists today either hit out, in a typically frustrated manner, when confronted with forces that they appear powerless to comprehend or otherwise master, or seek a kind of spiritual synthesis by turning to what may be considered the eternal verities of religion, and thus experience continuity and stability. As Brahms said of Bruckner: ‘His piety is his affair’, and the religious inspiration found in composers today as different in background as, say, the Scotsman James MacMillan and the Lebanese Naji Hakim (both in their mid-fifties, of the same generation) may be symptomatic of a deeper need in society, but the results in their music, as with Bruckner, surely demonstrate the validity of their personal choices.
In 1993, Hakim succeeded Messiaen as organist of La Trinite in Paris, and served in that position for 15 years. Like Messiaen, too, Hakim ‘s music often has a religious emanation, albeit more widely cast than Messiaen’s (or MacMillan’s) Catholicism, and on this disc we find excellent examples of the nature of Hakim’s inspiration which (of course) lies at the heart of his music.
There are six works here, quite varied in expression, all composed during this century. The most appealing aspect of Hakim’s music (for me) is its joyous character – not a kind of upmarket ‘slappy-happy’ view of the world but a positive embrace of life, acknowledging deeper matters but not bogged down by them. In Bach’orama Hakim pays homage to the great Law-giver of Music, a wonderfully wide-ranging but relatively short piece with lighter, not to say humorous, passages, which the master would surely have enjoyed. In great contrast, Jonquilles (‘Daffodils’) is a
set of three pastel-coloured miniatures (less than six minutes overall), perhaps evincing a passing influence from the work of Marcel Dupre, with a magically fading final chord of simple but entrancing inspiration.
The main work in this programme is Mit seinem Geist (2006), variations on the Lutheran chorale Ein’feste Burg ist unser Gott, known to all Christian worshippers, but here treated quite originally, not (for example) as in the powerful use of Luther’s theme as we find in Frederick Bridge’s 1911 Coronation Te Deum, or in Richard Arnell’s organ variations on the same theme, but concentrating upon the spiritual content (‘With His Spirit’) of the hymn in a series of inspired studies. This fine work succeeds on various levels – it is essentially a profoundly joyous celebration, more feminine than masculine – and although it is by no means easy in its technical demands (the composer, I should have thought, appears to leave matters of detailed registration to the circumstances of the individual player), it should be considered a major contribution to organ literature.
Theotokos (‘Mother of God’ in Greek) is another important contribution to contemporary organ music, a seven-movement Marian suite based on truly all-embracing yet wide-ranging material which perhaps only someone with Hakim’s provenance and adult backgrounds could have brought off with such success. At no time is one aware of a jarring, unconvincing juxtaposition of ethnic material – it is succeeded, by the composer’s character, into a coherent unity. This really impressive piece is succeeded by a highly contrasted shorter study: a six-minute Salve Regina is based on the plainsong theme, used as the starting point rather than as an embroidered basis; once again, the composer’s positive outlook expresses much in this short and slowly paced work.
Gershwinesca obviously is very different in character: it is a toccata-like piece, written for Wayne Marshall and first heard on the (old) Royal Festival Hall organ in London in 2001. The piece is more than a game of ‘spot the tune’, although from time to time it is not difficult to identify the sources. We’ve all heard of Gershwin’s love of improvisation at the piano, and I am sure he would have been delighted with this affectionate, clever and intensely musical 12-minute homage which brings this impressive issue to a brilliant conclusion.
International Record Review, Robert Matthew-Walker
- Bach-o-rama – Naji Hakim – 7.30
- Jonquilles: Moderato – Naji Hakim – 1.54
- Jonquilles: Allegro Vivace – Naji Hakim – 1.13
- Jonquilles: Maestoso – Naji Hakim – 1.58
- Mit seinem Geist: Allegro – Naji Hakim – 3.34
- Mit seinem Geist: Andante – Naji Hakim – 1.25
- Mit seinem Geist: Andante – Naji Hakim – 3.37
- Mit seinem Geist: Grazioso – Naji Hakim – 2.13
- Mit seinem Geist: Largo – Naji Hakim – 3.11
- Mit seinem Geist: Allegro Moderato – Naji Hakim – 2.08
- Mit seinem Geist: Largo – Naji Hakim – 2.52
- Mit seinem Geist: Allegro con spirito – Naji Hakim – 2.35
- Theotokos: Ouverture – Naji Hakim – 1.13
- Theotokos: M?ditation – Naji Hakim – 1.58
- Theotokos: Danse – Naji Hakim – 1.41
- Theotokos: Incantation – Naji Hakim – 0.59
- Theotokos: Pri?re – Naji Hakim – 1.46
- Theotokos: D?clamation – Naji Hakim – 2.53
- Theotokos: Finale – Naji Hakim – 6.34
- Salve Regina – Naji Hakim – 5.59
- Gershwinesca – Naji Hakim – 11.48