FANELLI:  Symphonic Pictures "The Romance of The Mummy."  (Th╦bes/F═te dans le palais du Pharaon).  BOURGAULT-DUCOUDRAY:  Rhapsodie cambodgienne.
Lydia Drahosova, mezzo-soprano; Slovak Radio Symphony Orch/Adriano
MARCO POLO 8.225234 (F) (DDD) TT:  69:09

EL-KHOURY:  Symphony "The Ruins of Beirut."  Hill of Strangeness.  Twilight Harmonies. Wine of the Clouds
National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine/Vladimir Sirenko, cond.
NAXOS 8.557043 (B) (DDD) TT:  63:49

These premiere recordings turn out to be of much less interest than their colorful titles suggest.  Born in Paris in 1860, Ernest Fanelli was primarily self-taught although he studied briefly with L╚o Delibes at the Paris Conservatory. To make a living he played percussion in orchestras and piano in restaurants, coming to the attention of Gabriel Piern╚ in 1912 when the latter hired him to do copyist work.  Fanelli, as an example of his craftsmanship, submitted the score of one of his own works, Th╦bes, which greatly impressed Piern╚ who became Fanelli's advocate, conducting the world premiere of Th╦bes in 1912, just one year before the premiere of Stravinsky's Sacre du Printemps, as well as several other Fanelli works.  However, he soon lost interest both in the music and its writer. In spite of this brief-lived recognition, Fanelli wrote no more; his last music was composed in 1894, sixteen years before his "discovery" by Piern╚.  Conductor Adriano has taken up the cause of Fanelli, searching for manuscripts with some success. This CD offers the symphonic tableaux based on Th╚ophile Gautier's Romance of the Mummy.  The three movements of  the first section, Th╚bes, are Before the Palace of Tahoser, On the Nile and Triumphal Return of the Pharoah.  The second section, Festival in the Pharoah's Palace, also has three movements: Dance of Entertainers in the Palace Hall, Grotesque Dance of Egyptian Clowns and Triumphal Song - Orgy.  Titles are intriguing, the actual music isn't.  The first movement begins with a wordless vocalise by a female slave, followed by a placid rather boring aural view of the Nile and an overly-long (13:24) banal, march replete with timpani and gongs, which would be effective, perhaps, in an appropriate movie.  F╚te is equally banal, the paucity of musical ideas particularly evident in the lengthy (11:14) not so triumphant "orgy."

Rhapsodie cambodgienne by Louis-Albert Bourgault-Ducoudray (1840-1910), with its unpretentious if rather naive unfolding of Cambodian folk themes, has a bit more  interest.  It's quite soothing after what preceded.

Equally tedious is Naxos' issue of works of Lebanese composer Bechara El-Khoury, born in Beirut in 1957, who after initial studies in his native country completed his schooling in composition and orchestration in Paris.  Since 1987 he has been a French citizen and has received many awards and commissions.  Works on this CD date from 1985 to 1997.  Ruins of Beirut, a 28-minute "symphony" in four movements (Drammatico, Misterioso, Poetico, Tragique) written in 1985, is considered to be his most ambitious score, composed in memory of the 1975 outbreak of civil war in Lebanon. Hill of Strangeness, an 11-minute "symphonic meditation," is "a journey through a fog pierced by glimpses of light which herald the song of solitude and silence hovering over life and over time, a lyrical song in which music identifies itself with nature, its evolutions and its conclusions, its uncertainties and its violence.  It is a struggle of light to come through the dark clouds stalking the horizon.  Grey dominates all other colors, like a sun rising in eternal night...a meditation on a hill forgotten in the fog, a hill where all is strange, where beginning has no end."  Twilight Harmonies was written in 1995 in memory of conductor Pierre Dervaux of which the composer wrote, "As we pay a great musician, I know that from on high, up above the stars, our friend Pierre Dervaux is listening to the silence and to time, and will be beating suspended time with us..."  Wine of the Clouds dates from 1997 and is "pure, non-programmatic music...a kind of confrontation between silence and the violence of nature, like a sun traversing the night and our souls..." In this music I hear little of the imagery suggested by these descriptions. Themes and development are scarce, prosaic ideas often punctuated by loud percussive interjections and whooping horns.

I have the greatest admiration and respect for Klaus Heymann who founded Naxos and Marco Polo, and for their attempts to broaden the range of repertory on CD - a concept alien to most major record companies. There have been many brilliant successes over the years. Unfortunately these two releases are not among them - although admittedly we now have the opportunity to know these are not undiscovered masterpieces -  in spite of the extravagant praise by Adriano and  G╚rald Hugon, respectively, who wrote adulatory liner notes.  One can only praise the Slovak and Ukraine orchestras and conductors Adriano and Vladimir Sirenko for their valiant efforts.  Sonic quality of these quite recent recordings is excellent.  El-Khoury's works hardly merit being issued in the Naxos "21st Century Classics" series, and one wonders why Fanelli's music was issued at full price.

R.E.B. (December 2002)