Naji Hakim: Embrace Of Fire

review embrace of fire x1 cong

This CD features works by Naji Hakim, revolving around organ and harpsichord. The main soloist is Simon Leach, joined for two works by a violinist and for one each by recorder and tenor.

Opener Salve Regina (there are two versions) starts with lone vocal that’s melodic plainchant. A few toots on the organ and mournful violin comes in, underpinned by the organ: it’s emotional and literally jaw-droppingly good. (“The softer stops, particularly the mutation stops on the choir division, come into their own” say the notes, eschewing use of the word “toot”).

The tone gradually perks up, becoming almost jaunty by Capriccio, the violin and organ working well together, the violin to the fore. The sound is almost eastern — a Jewish popular concert in 1920 is the feel, with something of the Romany in places, and it ends with a big flourish on the organ.

The Embrace of Fire opens with more vocal but then organ takes over; slightly unsettling music with the bassier notes prowling restlessly behind more irregular notes higher up the register — it’s reminiscent of 70s prog — until the music swells and unifies and drops back to a quieter form, before becoming more unruly by the second movement.

Hakim writes of it: “Man moves within the physical limits of Flesh, Space and Time. Joys, Sorrows, Union and Separation punctuate his existence which wends inexorably towards death.”

People who don’t like the organ might start to struggle, as it’s very organ. Things quieten for the third movement — the sound of outer space — but the power of the organ returns, and continues into Toccata PlainSong.

Dyptich follows: the first piece, Cantilène, throws in a recorder (John Turner, obviously) and ranges from the sound of a Victorian fair steam roundabout to a more thoughtful feel, while Dyptich II, Humoresque is more playful — unless you’re playing, “Both organist and recorder player are fully tested” says the sleeve.

Closing piece Hommage à Igor Stravinsky sees the organ inspired by the Gregorian chant, and there are references to Stravinsky’s work in each of the three movements.

For organ fans: the album was recorded at Holy Name Church, Oxford Road, Manchester, built in 1871 and featuring 48 speaking stops on three manuals and pedals. Violinists Benedict Holland and tenor Ranald McCusker also feature.

The CD is in memory of Gerry Mason, founder of recruitment company Morson; born in Salford in 1938, he died in 2015. He started the company in the family home in Eccles, a short distance away from the site of its current headquarters, and his son Ged has funded this CD.

You might not like all of it at first play but you will like some of it a lot, and the other sections grow with repeated listens; it’s a meaty and interesting programme.

Out now on Metier MSV28583.

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