El Nour Fatma Said Warner 9029523360

Fatma Said (soprano)
El Nour
Malcolm Martineau, Tim Allhoff (piano); Rafael Aguirre (guitar)
Burcu Karadağ (ney); Itamar Doari (percussion); Henning Sieverts (double bass); Tamer Pmarbaşi (kanun)
Vision String Quartet
rec. 2020, Jesus Christus Kirche, Berlin-Daheim, Germany
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
Warner Classics 9029 523360 [64]

Egyptian soprano Fatma Said brings a new twist to Warner Classics in her debut recital CD of songs from France, Spain, and Egypt. The title El Nour translates to The Light, and that is just what this recital brings into the listening space; an hour of lightness, transparency, along with the clarity of superb musicianship.

Ravel’s song cycle, Shéhérazade opens the recital in an exceedingly intimate performance. This is the original version for piano and voice rather than the more customary orchestrated one. Said’s fascinating soprano, clear and translucent, yet with a hint of something deeper in the tone, dazzles as she negotiates the delicate poetry of the first song, Asie. She is accompanied by the masterful Malcolm Martineau, who finds the perfect balance of not competing with the vocalist, yet never quite disappearing into the background either. The lush writing of Ravel is revealed in greater detail in the piano version whereas in the orchestral cycle some of that gets lost in the wealth of sound coming from the orchestra. At the climax of the song, the vocalist sings about people dying of love or hatred; here Ms Said conveys it with a passion and fervour but just enough not to tip the balance towards melodrama. For the second song, “La Flûte Enchantée” the producers came up with the inspired idea to include a Middle Eastern Ney Flute, which richly entwines with the piano while Said’s performance delicately touches on a mood of playfulness. There is a promotional video of the recording session for this song on You Tube which is worth investigating. With an equally arresting performance of the final song of this cycle, L’indifférent; this is a recording of Shéhérazade to rank beside many of the past notables, including those by Frederica von Stade and Jessye Norman.

Among other French repertoire on the disc is Bizet’s setting of one of Victor Hugo’s Oriental poems. Here the soprano basks in the opportunity to trace delicate melismas of pure tone and seductive mood. In an enchanting but unfamiliar song by Gaubert, Said paints the scene with charming simplicity. She lets the mood of the song weave its own spell as it relates the tale of the Holy family’s flight into Egypt, as they lay sleeping guarded by the watchful eyes of the Sphinx. Zaide must be one of Berlioz’s oddest compositions; a jolly sounding bolero on the surface. Said enters completely into the composer’s festive Spanish mood, yet the text tells a deeply troubled story of an orphan girl from the Al Andalus period. Whatever one may think of it, the song is a very clever artistic choice because it acts as a bridge between the French, Spanish and Egyptian selections.

Among the Spanish canciones that are included in this recital, in De Falla’s Tus ojillos negros Said relishes its Andalusian gusto as to the manner born. She has a fascinating way of seeming to live off the words, as if nothing existed before or after that particular moment. In a series of three songs by Lorca, accompanied by the gentle solo guitar playing of Rafael Aguirre, the soprano gives a feisty, triumphant performance of the Sevillana. Then, in a beautiful contrast, we hear a lullaby which showcases the haunting beauty of Said’s lowest register. Here it is fascinating to compare Said’s versions with those of Victoria de los Angeles, who recorded both Shéhérazade and some of the same Spanish songs during her long career. Both singers share similarities in that their voices are not large but used with great intelligence. De los Angeles sings with a similar attention to detail, yet she is often content to let her tone float; this has the effect of softening the edges of the musical lines. Said approaches the same lines more directly, with her tone more concentrated than that of her famous predecessor, an equally valid interpretation I think.

What takes this recital into previously uncharted territory for most western listeners is the inclusion of several songs from Egypt, most of them of more recent vintage than the French and Spanish songs. In these songs, Said is atmospherically accompanied by a jazz quartet in the lithely, elegant ballad Sahar El Layali. These represent a refreshing visit to foreign shores, and are very welcome additions to the song repertoire. The recording quality is superlative for this album, which was made in Berlin’s historic Jesus Christus Kirche, the locale of hundreds of great classical recordings of the past 60 plus years. Prior to the release of this album, Fatma Said has had limited exposure in the world of commercial classical marketing. I had seen her delightful performance as Amor in the Belvedere video of Gluck’s Orphée et Euridice from La Scala (Review). That performance was recorded only two years before this and shows her artistic progress has been considerable. I eagerly anticipate what her future may bring forth, both on disc and in performance.

Mike Parr

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Maurice Ravel: Shéhérazade:
I. Asie
II. La flûte enchantée
III. L’indifférent
Manuel de Falla: Tus ojillos negros
José Serrano, J: La canción del olvido: No. 2, Canción de Marinela
Fernando Obradors: 2 Cantares populares: No. 2, Del cabello más sutil
Hector Berlioz: Zaïde, H. 107, Op. 19
Philippe Gaubert: Le repos en Égypte
Federico García Lorca: 13 Canciones españolas antiguas
No. 1, Anda jaleo
No. 6, Sevillanas del siglo XVIII
No. 8, Nana de Sevilla
Gamal Abd al-Rahīm: Ana Bent El Sultan
Georges Bizet: Adieux de l’hôtesse arabe, WD 72
Najib Hankash: Aatini Al Naya Wa Ghanni
Sayed Darwish: El Helwa Di
Elias Rahbani: Sahar El Layali (Kan Enna Tahoun)
Dawood Hosni: Yamama Beida