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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Edel Classics

Mikis THEODORAKIS (b.1925)
Axion Esti 'Praise Be' (1960) [70:28]
Canto General (1971-74, 1980-81) [111:57]
Liturgy No. 2 For the Young Killed in Wars (1982) [34:05]
Symphony No. 3 (1981) [70:36]
Sadduzäer-Passion (1982) [53:17]
Gothart Stier (bar); Gunter Emmerlich (bas); Friedrich Wilhelm Junge (speaker); Lakis Kamezis (bouzouki); Erik Kross (sanduri); Beethoven-Chor des VEB Elektromaschinenbau Dresden; FDJ-Chor der EOS Kreuzschule Dresden; Kinder-Kammerchor der Dresdner Philharmonie; Orchester der Hochschule für Musik 'Carl Maria von Weber'; Lehrkräfter der Bezirksmusikschule 'Paul Büttner' Dresden/Mikis Theodorakis (Axion); Alexandra Papadjiakou (alto); Frangiskos Voutsinos (bar); Rundfunkchor Berlin/Lukas Karytinos (Canto); Dresdner Kreuzchor/Martin Flämig (Liturgy); Els Bolkestein (sop), Rundfunkchor Berlin, Orchester der Komischen Oper Berlin/Heinz Rögner (no. 3); Rundfunkchor Berlin; Friedrich Wilhelm Junge (speaker); Joachim Vogt (ten); Jürgen Freier (bar); Hermann Christian Polster (bass); Berlin Symphony Orchestra/Hans-Peter Frank (Passion)
rec. live - first performance, Komischen Oper, Berlin, 29 April 1982 (no. 3); other works rec. Berlin, 1980-1985. ADD
EDEL - BERLIN CLASSICS - 0002802CCC [6 CDs: 70:28 + 67:15 + 44:42 + 34:05 + 70:36 + 53:17]

 

Theodorakis is remembered by most people as the Greek composer who wrote the score for the film Zorba The Greek. His musical legacy, which continues to unfold on disc, has been profuse.

He wrote with an allegiance to the folk culture of his country long suppressed or diluted by invaders' voices. During the Second World War he joined the resistance against the occupying German and Italian troops. His political views seem to have been consonant with those of the pre-Unification DDR or at the very least his texts found favour there.

The present box is very welcome indeed. It gathers all the analogue Theodorakis recordings made and issued during the 1980s by the East German Eterna label. These are all ambitious major pieces: five of them across six CDs.

Axion has the beefy-toned Gothart Stier singing and speaking. His is a resolute delivery seemingly imbued with stalwart conviction. Much the same can be said of the barked-out rhythmically emphatic spoken and sung contribution of the choir in both the Genesis section and Und hier, so sieh! bin ich which ends with Stier's fervour matching with enormous emphasis the delivery of the choirs both adult and child. There are long stretches of speech, as in various movements marked Lesung: Der marsch an die Front (tr. 3), Der große Exodus (tr. 7) and Weissagung (tr. 12). In Nur diese a rousing unison piece speaks of a long march. This is stamped out by percussion and decorated with bouzouki which continues into Berge um mich as accompaniment to Stier's and the choirs' ecclesiastical meditative singing. As in the Third Symphony the composer's commitment to accessibility opens the door as Mit dem Lüster der Sterne with the stars of the title glinting stark and stony through the piano.

Bouzouki, percussion punctuation and orchestral piano mark out the populist ballad-style Höore reine Sonne der Gerechtigkeit (tr. 8), Kirchen (tr. 10), Ich höffneden Mund (tr. 13). You might be surprised by how populist this music is. The Intermezzo (tr. 9) has no singing or speaking - it is for orchestra with an almost Arabian swaying smoothness. This is a gentle meditation of considerable accessible beauty. Another side of the coin arrives with Ich ziehe nein Landhinab in which the delivery has the defiant tone and Franz Schmidt-like heroism of the Genesis und Hier movements. This is conjoined with gritty sprechgesang from the choirs. That part-sung and part-shouted emphasis radiates revolutionary fervour: the style compares with that of the chorus in Orff's Trionfi trilogy and in William Mathias's This Worlde's Joie. The finale is Lobgepriesen sei where populism, the bouzouki presence and the easily sung style may be likened to a rigour-stiffened version of what you might hear from various Christian pop cantatas from Scandinavia. A surprise comes at 7:25 where protesting music finds echoes in the defiant concatenation of shouted speech across the backdrop of stormy writing for orchestra. When this falls away we return to a smooth middle eastern melismatic swaying line for Stier. There is just a hint of the rumba in the final section. The effect is grand and the applause is enthusiastic.

Canto General is another oratorio for soloists, choir and orchestra. It's a big piece setting words by Pablo Neruda and spread here across two CDs. Despite the listing above a full orchestra participates. Pounding populist latino-Orff rhythms drive Albunas bestias sung in Spanish; much the same applies to Los Libertadores. Voy a Vivir is more gentle with guitar and/or bouzouki touching in the details as the chorus sing smoothly, ballad-like and honeyed. A Mi partido, with its Latino guitar modesty sounds at first like a song to be sung by Glen Campbell or John Denver but Frangiskos Voutsinos adds edginess and protest to what might otherwise be too saccharine. Lautaro leans on pica-pau type rhythmic variety of the kind found in the big Choros pieces by Villa-Lobos. There’s some fascinating writing with piano and rattles over which Papadjiakou sings with flamenco vibrancy. Latin-American verve also suffuses Vienen los Pajaros with its brightness from piano, sparkling guitar and other percussion. The most experimental and subtle material comes in the Sandino (tr. 7) with its wispy, wailing, confidingly modest tone, flickering flutes and ululating choirs and slip-sliding drums. The Neruda Requiem drips and intones its way like a slowly melting iceberg.

Canto General continues on CD3 of the set with La United Fruit Co which is a galloping Latin American dance movement. Vegetaciones has Papadjiakou, she of the smoky fervour, acting as rallyer of the people and duly joined by the great choir. Pattering Latino percussion click, thud and clatter from 4:40 onwards in the finale America Insurrecta. This rises to a weighty confident defiance. The Latino elements of this easy access score remind me of Alan Bush's rumba-inflected opera The Sugar Reapers not to mention the even more subtly-woven Caribbean element in Malcolm Williamson's Our Man in Havana.

The creation of Canto General owes much to the martyred Salvator Allende who suggested to Theodorakis which poems from Neruda's sequence should be set. The Canto General performed to 75000 people in the Panathiaikos Stadium in 1975 reflects Theodorakis's mission to speak to the agora not the so-called elite.

In Liturgy No. 2 Theodorakis happily arrogates the liturgical himmlische style for his determinedly secular Marxist ends. This in fact sounds rather like Howells though sung largely in unison. It’s all very accessible this time scored only for voices. sung in aureate molten glowing gold. In Der Heilige Che (yes, Che Guevara). There is a dancing and swaying melisma to the Anne Frank movement (tr. 8) This has none of the raging and sharply rhythmic Orff-like style of the earlier works. In fact this music sounds connected to Brahms or Schoeck in their settings of folk or folk-style songs. The tone of the wonderfully honed children's choirs adds innocent pleasure to the listening experience.

Dirk Stöve's sleeve-notes spend time struggling with who used who between the DDR government of the eighties and Theodorakis. It matters little now but certainly if this music was played to an innocent ear I think it would gain new friends among those who love their Kodaly, Rutter and Orff. There is a bell-clear uncomplicated directness about his writing that should find an easy mark with many. The more superior may condemn it for a sometimes bland sentimentality but its accessibility is undeniable. In its variety and structure it certainly has the ability to grip and hold the attention.

Theodorakis has also written symphonies. His First dates from 1948 written after learning of the death of his boyhood friend Lt. Makis Karlis. That Symphony is purely orchestral and is threaded through with Greek tragedies, the inspiration of murals and the recollection of Shostakovich's Leningrad. The Second The Song of the Earth and the Third use poetic texts. The Third is based on verse by Dionysius Solomos (1798-1837).

Theodorakis's anger at injustice is another element in the mix and this can be heard especially in the finale of the Third Symphony. The Third is an ambitiously scaled choral symphony. It begins in modest self-control with a mezza voce chant-like theme carried by the strings. The orchestra is then joined by the voices. The music proceeds reverently and in peace with gong-stroke punctuation. A jangling restlessness then gains ascendancy with, not for the last time, rock-style activity from the percussion. Everything is tonal and accessible - very approachable music with sincere spiritual depth. At the zenith of the first movement the music has the weighty deliberation of Beethoven, the ecstasy of Howells (in the surging writing for soloist and choir à la Missa Sabrinensis) and the massive choral impact of Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex and Klami's Hymnus. The second movement goes at a scathing hunting pace - a brusque and aggressive chase. This movement points up Theodorakis's skill with repetition of melodic and rhythmic material. More angular writing is found here than that in the first movement. Solo instruments dart and fly out of the textures with more braying and ululating work for the brass. This recalls Henze's The Raft of the Medusa. In fact the violent variety of the Henze work makes for quite a good parallel - at least for the second movement. After the frenetic turmoil of the Presto (tr. 2) the strings-led consolation of the Adagio offers balm and pathos. This is written to bring out the sonority of a grand string section but rises to a smashingly bumptious orchestral peak after which the choir sing out with all the fervour of a Latvian patriotic hymn. The finale passes through Allegro vivace, Presto, Largo and Andante episodes. Almost as long as the first movement, its onward tumult finally stops and we sink into a Largo for strings over which a fragile high trumpet solo wheels with the mollifying voice of Els Bolkestein. The work ends with a slowly graceful rising hymn for high strings and full choir falling into a chilly desolation amid the choir's sprechgesang whisperings.

With the Sadduzaer-Passion written just after the Third Symphony we are back to the pattern of populist oratorio. The music is marked out by emphasised rhythms and is inflected by middle eastern ululation. This time though, the repetition recalls Adams and Nyman filtered through Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements. In the Blinde zeit section Theodorakis shocks us with writing typical of Schoenberg's Survivor of Warsaw and Jakobsleiter. The music collects a klezmer flavour along the way. There is a withering intensity at about much of the writing for chorus and orchestra. However the music becomes more accessible as it proceeds and by the time we get to the finale (Nach Sadduzäert) the tone may be hectoring but the casing is enough to hold the attention with Orff-like rhythmic interest (tr. 7 8:40). As end comes in sight the music combines minimalism and Stravinsky (this time Oedipus Rex) in an echo of the opening movement. This work must have caused a shudder or two amongst the anti-formalist high priests of the Soviet DDR; of all the works here this one has the largest infusion of serial and avant-garde material. Yet in his autobiography Theodorakis identifies The Rite of Spring as the last great event in contemporary music. He rejects the avant-garde as the stuff of self-serving ivory tower communities. His 'mark' is the ‘agora’ and accessibility.

Theorodakis is well served by all involved in these wonderful recordings. Whatever you may think of the politics the music, which to some classical ears may suffer from an excess of populism, is accessible without kitsch miscalculation. Theodorakis's appropriation of the tonal language of spirituality for Marxist ends is well worth hearing if you can put aside any issues you have with the ideology and focus on the music. Who knows, perhaps the absence of texts will help the music gain acceptance. Such political correctness will if we are not careful deprive us of the words of the choral finale of Alan Bush's masterful Piano Concerto. Still, if we can live with the elevated humanism of John Ireland's These Things Shall Be I do not see why we cannot accept Theodorakis's revolutionary texts. Berlin Classics’ decision to omit the texts (variously German and Greek) is a decision I regret. Perhaps they could consider creating a website from which we can download the words.

This is an economical way of adding some rare Theodorakis to your collection. Unless ideology is an obstacle to your appreciation of music do try this instantly accessible yet far from bland music. It is the product of an intelligence and a heart concerned with
protest against injustice. When Theodorakis speaks through his music he conveys his message without barriers.

Rob Barnett



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