> SKALKOTTAS Quartet BISCD1124 [HC]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Nikos SKALKOTTAS (1904 – 1949)
String Quartet No.1 (1928)
Zehn Stücke für Streichquartett (1940)
Octet (1934)˛
String Trio No.2 (1935)
Geros Dimos (1949)

The New Hellenic Quartet; Jan Bengtson (flute)˛; Per Huderson (oboe)˛; Per Billman (clarinet)˛; Christian Davidson (bassoon)˛
Recorded: Nybrokajen, Stockholm, April 2000
BIS CD-1124 [65:16]


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Skalkottas’s first mature string quartet was composed in 1928 during the period of his studies with Schönberg (1927-1928) in Berlin and, as far as is known, was performed in Berlin and Athens in 1930. This is a concise work in three short, contrasted movements characterized by Skalkottas’s own atonal-serial idiom and idiomatic string writing. (He was a violinist who played in various orchestras and string quartets, including his own Athens Quartet which he founded in 1949.) The First String Quartet is a remarkably crafted piece of music brimming with invention and assured writing, in which Skalkottas’s contrapuntal mastery is evident from first to last.

Though clearly from the same pen, the Octet of 1934 is in a somewhat lighter, more entertaining vein. It is a fine work, superbly put together, full of technical assurance and yet another example of the composer’s formal mastery.

So is the much more serious and ambitious String Trio No.2 completed the following year. Both pieces have much in common through the string trio is a more austere, demanding piece, but obviously a great achievement.

The Zehn Stücke für Streichquartett (Skizzen) composed in about 1940 may be better known in the version for string orchestra made by the composer with the title Ten Sketches (available on AGORA 129). This suite of ten short pieces evokes several musical moods in much the same way as Prokofiev’s Visions fugitives (for piano but arranged for strings by Rudolf Barshaï), Webern’s Bagatellen or Fernando Lopes-Graça’s Fourteen Annotations. All movements, but the three slow ones, are very short indeed and sometimes play for less than one minute. Nevertheless the whole set is a fine achievement in its own right and really deserves its comparative popularity.

Geros Dimos (1949) is actually an arrangement of a folk-like song by Paul Karrer (1829 – 1896) that Skalkottas made for his newly founded Athens Quartet. Though the basic material obviously bears the imprint of late National Romanticism, Skalkottas handles the tune in much the same way as he did in his Greek Dances. A short enjoyable encore that is well worth hearing though the Greek Dances based on authentic folk material are much more attractive.

The New Hellenic Quartet, who have already recorded Skalkottas’s Third and Fourth String Quartets (BIS CD-1074, a real winner), play with conviction, technical assurance and full understanding of Skalkottas’s music. So do their colleagues in the Octet. A most welcome and recommended release which pays a long-delayed and well-deserved tribute to this great composer.

Hubert Culot


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