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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Nikos SKALKOTTAS (1904-1949)
Thirty-Six Greek Dances (1931-36, rev. 1948-49):
Series I (1933-35) [21:34]; II (1936-49) [39:15]; III (1936-49) [30:00] (full listing at end of review)
Urals State Philharmonic Orchestra (Sverdlovsk)/Byron Fidetzis
Rec. Sverdlovsk TV Studio 500, 23-27 July, 1-2 Oct 1990. DDD LYRA SKL36 [41:37 + 50:34]

 

It was not all that long ago that I reviewed a double CD of these dances. Bis gave us all three sets plus alternative versions of dances II/8, II/9; III/6 (1949). A substantial and deeply different bonus came in the form of the plungingly dissonant The Return of Ulysses - a so-called Overture for Orchestra. The Athens-based Lyra company are already at a disadvantage as against the Bis. Lyra give you less Skalkottas for your dollar, euro or pound. In addition Bis have excellent international distribution and Lyra CDs are a very rare bird outside Greece and probably sparsely available even there. That I know about the Lyra set at all is down to John G Deacon, former director of EMI Greece and founder of the much-lamented Conifer Records, who wrote to put me right when I claimed that the Bis set was the world premiere recording of the dances; see Mr Deacon’s highly informative note at the end of my Bis review: www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2003/Aug03/skalkottas_odysseus.htm

These Greek Dances and Kalomiris’s Levendia symphony are probably the most celebrated Greek classical works of the twentieth century. The conductor-composer Walter Goehr - father of the composer Alexander Goehr - once stated that Skalkottas’s dances could easily become as widely appreciated and popular as Borodin's Polovtsian Dances or Dvořák's Slavonic Dances. This judgement is borne out in part by the many forms in which the Greek Dances have been recorded. Reportedly there have been  thirty recordings of them in multifarious various arrangements by the composer and others; everything from band to violin and piano; from symphony orchestra to string orchestra.

 In 1957 twelve of them were recorded by the Greek-born conductor Gregory Millar conducting the Little Symphony Orchestra of San Francisco. Dimitri Mitropoulos and the New York Philharmonic recorded four of them in 1955 as part of the 1955 Athens Festival, a recording released in 1958 and reissued in a commemorative CD in 1990. However until the Bis CD appeared this Lyra disc was the sole complete recording of the 36 Greek Dances.

 Of recent years Skalkottas has been well served on record largely due to the generous activity of Bis. However Bis are not alone on this and were certainly not first. Some of you may recall a Greek EMI box of Skalkottas chamber music on LP circa 1976. This has not, as far as I am aware, been reissued on CD. A fuller conspectus of Skalkottas on record can be found here: There is also a list of the Bis CDs at the end of my Skalkottas review - URL above.

 These 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 look both east and west with Turkish and Islamic twists on the one hand and western elements  such as the familiar Stravinskian stomp of The Rite of Spring. The Kodály of Galanta and The Peacock is recalled time and again (tr. Messolonghitikos, Set 3 No. 11) as also are the dance suites of the Portuguese composer de Freitas Branco.

 

In the Fidetzis recordings we get a wild and woolly, and sometimes a pretty splashy and approximate approach. The Bis versions sound so much more buttoned down and prepared though by no means unspontaneous. The whole point is that we should surely catch the skirl, harshness, rough and bellicose rustic flavour. Village festivities, bear dances, threadbare town bands, wheezing woodwind contributions, rubicund faces, wine and night-time carousal should all be there. Arguably that is exactly what Fidetzis and Lyra deliver - knockabout and rowdy to the core (try Vlachikov - CD1 tr. 17). Brusque dissonances are lavished to grand effect in the tragic Tsamikos II of the Second Set (CD 2 tr. 3) and in the barking horn propulsion and eerie wind instrument skirling of Peloponnisiakos (CD 2 tr. 6). And is there a Mexican overlay in Chostianos (CD2 tr. 8) - a certain Copland composition leaps to mind. A dervish-whirl of Kleftikos I (CD2 tr. 9) compares with another of those shimmering dawn mists half RVW-Tallis and half Canteloube in Mariori Mou (set. 2 No. 4)

 

The rhythmic element in these dances is presented undiluted and with all its ragged edges. String contributions are not polished and sophisticated - try the Thessalikos, Set 1 (CD1 tr. 12). Tricky rhythms throw the players and ensemble can slip drastically out of focus. The Nissiotikos of the Second Set has the French Horn under great strain (CD1 tr. 16). The Syrtos of Set 2 (CD1 tr. 13) is reminiscent of Khachaturian. The Cretikos III (no. 3 of the second set) creates a shimmering misty outdoor picture which recalls both Canteloube and Guridi. Other voices we may think of while listening include Malcolm Arnold’s various sets of British Isles dances and the string writing of Alan Hovhaness.

 

The Bis documentation is good. Lyra however pull out all the stops. While the quality of reproduction of the many photographs they use is not up to Bis standard the many they do use are fascinating. The notes are in Greek and English. They go into satisfyingly deep detail. The reminiscences of conductor Byron Fidetzis are well worth spending tome with.

 

Ultimately not recommendable in the face of withering competitive fire from the Bis set which gives these vigorous and gaudily painted dances in more polished performances - though by no means quite as spontaneous - and tops off the recommendation by providing the Odysseus overture and the three alternative versions of the Dances.

 
Rob Barnett

 Full Track Listing

CD 1

1st SERIES

An Eagle, tsamikos dance* Cretan dance I* Epirot dance I*

Peloponnesian dance I* Cretan dance II Klephtic dance II

Siphnian dance I  Kalamatianos dance The dance of Zalongos

Macedonian I  Boys, who threw it (Cretan Dance V) Thessalina dance


2nd SERIES

Syrtos dance  Siphnian dance II (At Aghia Markella) Cretan dance III (I'll get up at the break of dawn)

Island dance (A girl from Mylopotamos) Vlach dance Black Kerchief

CD 2

2nd SERIES

Kathistos dance Chiot dance (A ship from Chios) Tsamikos dance II (Down at the large plain)

Table dance (Cretan dance IV) Macedonian II (The Doe) Peloponnesian II (Lyngos, the handsome youth)

3rd SERIES

Dance from Hosti Epirot dance II Klephtic dance I

My Mariori, my Mariori Down in the Valtos villages Macedonian dance III

Chiot dance II (Down on the beach, short one) Klephtic dance III The Kiss under the bitter orange tree

Arcadian dance Messolonghian dance Mazochtos (I'll turn into a swallow)

[* Performance according to the 1948 French Institute Edition]




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