Bechara El-Khoury Piano Sonatas Effectively Blend Traditions

Increasingly, composers seem to be going their own way. These pioneers blend different music traditions and styles together.

When it’s done well, a truly unique composer’s voice emerges. And that (in my opinion) is what happens with this collection of Bechara El-Khoury piano works.

El-Khoury is best known for his orchestral works. In those, he weaves together Lebanese and French influences. The latter is particularly obvious in his orchestrations.

These works for solo piano, though, strip away that layer. Yet even here, El-Khoury’s love of French music is apparent. The Piano Sonata No. 1, written when El-Khoury was in his twenties, has a mixed atonal/highly chromatic sound. Some of the chord voicings gave me hints of Ravel.

The second sonata was written four years later. And yet it shows a remarkable development of style. While there are still some hints of atonality, the harmonies have a thick, Impressionist feel to them. This sonata, unlike the first, has just two movements; Lento con sereno and Presto con fuoco.

The other two sonatas, composed in the 21st Century also follow that structure. Both have a slow first movement and a second fast movement. In both, the harmonies, though still thick, have a different quality. They’re not aggressively dissonant, yet not warmly consonant either. Can I call it post-Impressionist?

Giacomo Scinardo delivers thoughtful performances of these works. In the slow movements, El-Khoury is often introspective, and Scinardo’s playing successfully communicates that. He is also more than a match for the considerable technical demands of the music (especially in the later sonatas).

I first came to love El-Khoury’s music through his orchestral works. This album helped me appreciate his aesthetic even more. Recommended to anyone looking for a composer who follows his own path, even when it crosses those of others.

Bechara El-Khoury: Piano Sonatas Nos. 1-4
Giacomo Scinardo, piano
Naxos. 8.579022

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