Various Artists

Egyptian Splendour

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The Gift of Music is one of those mass-marketed "miracles" of licensing that always promise one hour or more of music, ergo, more bang for your buck. Moreover, The Gift of Music does provide some interest in the mixture of interesting program choices in addition to the usual fare weighted toward romance and relaxation, and the disc Egyptian Splendour: The Mystery of Egypt in Classical Music is certainly no exception. Even among long-ago series trotted out by major labels such as Weekend Classics and Philips Lifestyles would have been hard-pressed to come up with a theme like classical music related to Egypt, even though -- as shown here -- such a program can easily be assembled from Western literature. There is nothing wrong with the recordings, other than that those of Alfred Brendel (in Balakirev's Islamey, a choice that kind of stretches the limit of the concept) and Christian Rainer and the London Philharmonic's rendering of Johann Strauss II's delicious Aegyptischer Marsch seem almost as ancient as Tutankhamen himself. However, The Gift of Music might have done a more careful job in assembling it, as if the tracklisting is correct, then tracks 3 and 4 are switched.

As novel a concept as this is, if you are really interested in music that reflects the culture of Egypt you are much, much better off getting to know contemporary composers like Halim El-Dabh or Hamza El-Din or connecting with Coptic Christian sacred music than in listening to a disc like this. Nineteenth century Europeans used what Egyptian -- or more generally, Arabic -- influences they knew to inject some exotic flavor into their scores, but despite the enduring popularity of Verdi's Aïda in Egypt, none of this music truly reflects what music in Egypt is like, nor did it intend to. While the price may be right and the bang for your buck acceptably maxxed out in terms of running time, one suspects that The Gift of Music's Egyptian Splendour: The Mystery of Egypt in Classical Music is one port of call you'll want to avoid.

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