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Nikos SKALKOTTAS (1904-1949)
The Sea - Ballet Suite (1948-49) [45:15]
Four Images (1948) [13:43]
Cretan Feast (orchestration by Skalkottas of a work by Dmitri Mitropoulos) (1919 orch. 1923-24) [7:20]
Greek Dance in C minor (1949?) [5:07]
Iceland Symphony Orchestra/Byron Fidetzis
rec. June 2003, Haskolabio, Reykjavik, Iceland. DDD
BIS-CD-1384 [72:44]



There is a large part of Skalkottas's oeuvre that is seriously dissonant. It made quite an impact in the 1960s and 1970s in the UK when revived on the BBC by Dorati and others. Separate from that strain this Greek composer also wrote in a grateful lyrical idiom in touch with the song and dance of his homeland. This can be heard in his large collection of Greek Dances.

It is this raw, dancing and whirling energy that we catch in the 45 minute ballet suite of The Sea, written in 1948 and orchestrated the next year. The style combines Bartók, Khachaturian and Tchaikovsky in a romantic package which is sometimes grand and sometimes frivolously playful as in The Little Fish. There is a throaty little central serenade in the otherwise raucous Dance of the Mermaid. The Tchaikovskian lead soldiers seems raucously to the fore in The DolphinsThe Nocturne (tr. 7) is epic and seriously reflective of the sea's power and great distances. The music for the Preparation of the Mermaids in tr. 8 sounds as if ready made for a Ray Harryhausen animated fight sequence. The sinuous Sheherazade-like violin solo in The Tale of Alexander the Great recalls the fantasy of Rimsky's Sadko and Stravinsky's Rossignol. The final Hymn to the Sea is brazen and alive with a pomp that does not sound entirely natural from this composer. Once again the leader of the Iceland Symphony Gudný Gudmundsdóttir is to the fore.

The Four Images are from the same period as The Sea. This is effectively another folksy dance suite in the varied manner of the thirty-six Greek Dances: hammered, exhausting energy and amorous serenades. Nielsen's Aladdin came to mind more than once as also do the more terpsichorean Canteloube songs and Arnold’s national dances. This is light music with a foot that keeps switching into the serious. The harmony is far from bland - its accents have learnt from Bartók and yet more from Kodály.

Cretan Feast is a work by Mitropoulos.  This is a  stormily and rapturously surging work with more than a little indebtedness to Tchaikovsky and Nielsen at their most tempestuous.

The grand Greek Dance in C minor romps along in rustling Dvořákian colours. The writing is not quite as tangy as in the main sequence of 36 Greek Dances but it is uproarious and would make a fine and unhackneyed encore at a Prom concert ..... if only!

This along with the masterly Thirty-Six Greek Dances is one of the easiest approaches to the genius of Skalkottas.

Rob Barnett





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