This is the fourth volume in Bis's steadfastly
dedicated and continuing Skalkottas orchestral series. The cycle
is listed in full at the end of this review.
Of the almost 148 minutes of this set two hours
is given over to the highly approachable Greek Dances -
all thirty nine of them (listed at the end of the review) - if
you include the three alternative versions. The remaining 28 minutes
are allocated to The Return of Ulysses which is Skalkottas
in twelve tone mode - more Berg than Webern. This dichotomy is
not completely pure; witness the Bergian rhapsodic violin solo
of Chiotikos (II. 8) or the salty brassy dissonant snarls
in Tsamikos (tr.15 CD2 and tr. 21 CD1) the latter rather
like the squat obbligato grumblings in Nyman’s Prospero's Books.
The dances should appeal to listeners who already appreciate Eshpai,
Enescu, Janáček or Kodály with occasional infusions
of Stravinsky and even Vaughan Williams and Copland.
The dances are for full orchestra with prominent
doses of woodwind character. As often as not you will start off,
as in Critikos (I; 2), with a Slavonic lilt and then along
comes some cheeky Arnoldian woodwind or brass writing soused with
coarse and whiskery life. Ipirotikos (I; 3) starts bumptiously
rhythmic into which is imported a mid-eastern sway which then
veers towards Rumania. The Kleftikos (set I) is a sombre
awakening the writing in which is sharply reminiscent of Sibelius
Symphony No. 4 until at 2.24 it flames into transient vitality
with squeezed fleeting violin solos. The last dance, Thessalikos,
is a brusque collision between Pulcinella and El Salon
While the first set features dances that are
by and large short the second has dances of which seven run three
minutes or more. The first dance Syrtos (tr. 13 CD1) is
truculent and stormy. Critikos (Cretan Dance) (tr. 15 CD1)
is an adagio-paced idyllic musing with a majestic central section.
Macedonikos (tr. 23 CD1) is the longest of all at 6.34
and steps it slowly - a dance in the early mists.
Set III has the happy and horn-rasping Hostianos
(hinting at the optimism of Arthur Bliss) contrasted with the
sighing musing of Ipirotikos and the Enescu-like wildnesses
of Kleftikos. Innocence and a warm chuckle that is almost
Provençal can be heard in the second Kleftikos in
set III. Arcadikos is sentimental and flowing. The rumbustious
Messolongitikos whirls along like one of the more uproarious
These dances are a compendium of invention, East
Mediterranean expression, folk manner and flamboyance. Their titles
variously refer to areas of Greece, types of dance and specific
folksongs. They are full of delightful surprises. Although they
deserve much better these dances are well worth broadcasters keeping
on hand as time fillers. Ballet companies should also have this
set. It may yet provide a bank of ideas for some highly successful
Across the three sets the same title is used
for different dances; thus there is an Ipirotikos and a
Kleftikos in each of I and III, a Critikos in set
I and II. In fact there are two of Critikos within set
Many of the dances have been recorded before
(five appear here in world premiere recordings) and so has the
cuckoo in the nest here. The overture for orchestra The
Return of Odysseus is in Skalkottas's head-on dissonant
language, transparently orchestrated and full of awkward fascination.
It is a phantasmal piece smoothly evolving through a series of
episodes belligerent (8.23), hurtling and brilliant (7.04), fugal
(15.03) and seraphic yet troubled (24.02). This is not its first
recording. There was another on Koch International with a Danish
Orchestra. The piece was premiered in 1969 by the LSO with Dorati
conducting. Be warned it is quite a different work than any of
the dances. At various times it has sported the completely spurious
subtitle of Symphony in one movement.
The conductor also supplies the splendidly detailed
and extensive notes.
While the gargantuan overture is likely to appeal
most immediately to out and out enthusiasts of the Schoenberg
tendency the dances have great potential for popularity. I recommend
this set strongly.
FULL DETAILS OF GREEK DANCES
1 Tsamikos - An Eagle
5 Critikos - I enjoy no other dance
9 Dance of Zalongo
11 Oh friends, who threw this apple
2 Sifneikos - At Saint Marcella
3 Critikos - Early at dawn I rise
4 Nissiotikos - A woman from Mylopotamos
6 Black Sash
10 Eptrapezios (Critikos)
5 Down there at the village of Valtos
7 Chiotikos - Down there at the seashore
9 Kiss under a bitter-orange tree
12 Mazochtos - I shall become a swallow.
THE BIS SKALKOTTAS SERIES
Violin Concerto, Largo Sinfonico, Greek Dances BIS-CD-904
Double Bass Concerto, Mayday Spell, Greek Dances BIS-CD-954
Piano Concerto No. 1, Maiden and Death; Ouverture Concertante
Music for violin and piano BIS-CD-1024
String Quartets 3 and 4 BIS-CD-1074
String Quartet 1 etc BIS-CD-1124
Music for piano solo BIS-CD-1133-1134
Violin Sonata etc BIS-CD-1204
Note from John Deacon
Sorry to raise a query with your reviewer but
I have spent some 30 years struggling to see a proper professional
recording made of these dances. It all began when I was at EMI
Greece (1970-77) and the head of the Greek Society of Contemporary
Music (Mr. John Papaioannou) approached us to say that thanks
to money from the Ford Foundation he had almost finished having
all the unperformed/unpublished dances transcribed into orchestral
parts and that he was planning to find a major company to record
them complete for the first time. I recall that some 24 of them
still remained totally unknown. At that time I knew only of 5-6
dances on an unknown US label by the Little Orchestra of San Francisco
cond. Sherman (Thomas, I think and with one 'n' ?).
Following this contact I then had several meetings with Dorati
and agreed with Peter Andry's dept. that EMI London would arrange
for Abbey Road engineers to record these works with Dorati and
the RPO during their visit to the Athens Festival (the following
Several things conspired against this, in particular when Mr.
Papaioannou indicated to us that he would require a recording
of the Violin Concerto to become part of the package (or the scores
of the dances would not be made available). As a result EMI London
declined to proceed with the project. In fact the scores were
nowhere near ready and did not become so until many years later.
From that point on I was independent (running Conifer) and tried
proposing this project right around the industry. Nobody was interested
! Not Decca, nor Chandos, nor Hyperion, and not even EMI. Naxos
And then ....
and this is where I take issue with your writer who said that
>> Many of the dances have been recorded before (five appear
here in world premiere recordings) <<
.... a complete recording appeared on the Lyra label in Athens
(2CD) by the Urals PO under Byron Fidetzis. However inspired the
conductor might have been, the recording and orchestral playing
are abysmal and, in any event, the set saw no international distribution
So there are 5 world premiere recordings here ? I believe that
doesn't quite add up !?
Upon my return from EMI Dubai in 1997 I contacted the Ford Foundation
and they told me that the scores had been finished and the Urals
PO recording issued on Lyra. By then it had been out for over
a year yet nobody knew about it !
Anyway after all these struggles it is great news that Robert
von Bahr has secured the scores for I am certain that if Mr. Papaioannou
is still alive he must be thrilled at the prospect of seeing the
complete oeuvre of his hero appearing on a major label at last.
The sales possibilities for this recording in Greece remain truly
massive (to this day) if marketed properly for it is the only
"non-pop/bouzouki" tourist souvenir for a visitor to
take home !
Sad that the Ford Foundation spent so much money and then had
to wait nearly 30 years for the BIS recording to come along !!
Enfin, bravo ! I am impatient to hear it. I'm sure this was worth
In conclusion, a rather moving footnote: Dorati, of course, appeared
at the Athens Festival (that year) with the Philharmonia Hungarica.
He began the encore. I knew instinctively, from the rhythm in
the opening bars, that I was hearing a Skalkottas dance. So did
the rest of the audience for all 6000 of them rose immediately,
and silently, to their feet. They were greatly moved by Dorati's
gesture. At the end there was bedlam. I have never experienced
anything like it.
John G. Deacon, former director of EMI Greece
and founder of Conifer Records