Nélida Nassar 05.17.2016
Each return of pianist Simon Ghraichy to his native Lebanon is an awaited event; but hearing him perform the exotic and sparkling Concerto No. 5 dubbed “Egyptian” by Saint-Saëns will be a surprise in and by itself. Having played with leading European, American and South American orchestras, he will be performing with the Lebanon Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Harout Fazlian in a promising evening.
The concerto’s name did not come from Saint-Saëns himself but was added later when it was discovered this concerto was composed during one of his annual frequent winter vacations in the temple town of Luxor in Egypt. The music is among his most exotic, displaying influences from Javanese and Spanish as well as Middle-Eastern tunes. Saint-Saëns said that the piece represented a sea voyage.
However, this too rarely performed concerto is a revelation. It is composed of three sections Allegro animato, Andante and Molto allegro. It is scored for solo piano, piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trombones, timpani, tam tam, and strings. The Egyptian-influenced melodies sang out over exciting chord structures which, whilst hardly being Schoenbergian, were undoubtedly bold for 1896. The popular perception of Saint-Saëns is that, while hugely prodigious, he ultimately spent most of his long life a conservative, rallying against the progressive French musical landscape of the early 20th century. The piece also features the stark transformation in French music after the advent of impressionism, with the Saint-Saëns sounding worlds apart from the Debussy and Ravel that followed.
Simon Ghraichy who possesses a rare magnetism as a performer, when matched with his technical brilliance the results could be electrifying, and they certainly will be. Saint-Saëns conservative piece will be transformed into a contemporary, sparkling work. A concert not to be missed….
Friday, 20 May 2016 at 8.00 p.m.
St Joseph Jesuit Church
Monnot Street, Beirut
Photography Credit: Jean-Francois Meler