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Impressions for Saxophone and Orchestra
Mikis THEODORAKIS (b.1925)
Cretan Concerto (1952, orch. 2005) [10:44]
Adagio (1993) [3:44]
Nikos SKALKOTTAS (1904–1949)
Concertino (1939, orch. 2005) [11:38]
Theodore ANTONIOU (b.1935)
Concerto Piccolo (2000) [16:00]
Minas ALEXIADIS (b.1960)
Phrygian Litany [7:53]
Vassilis TENIDIS (b.1936)
Rhapsody of Pontos (1997) [13:24]
Manos HADJIDAKIS (1925–1994)
Mr Knoll [3:39]
Theodore Kerkezos (saxophones)
Thessaloniki State Symphony Orchestra/Myron Michailidis
rec. Aristotle University Hall, Thessaloniki, Greece, December 2005
NAXOS 8.557992 [67:09]

The collective title of this recent release is to be taken with a pinch of salt. The unifying factor is the immaculate playing of Theodore Kerkezos, for whom some of the works recorded here were written; but three of them were not originally conceived for the saxophone. That said, this disc is thoroughly enjoyable throughout. Moreover, the orchestrations of the works of Theodorakis and Skalkottas have been superbly done by Yannis Samprovalakis. In fact, Theodorakis’s Cretan Concerto is an arrangement for saxophone and orchestra of his First Violin Sonata composed as early as 1952 and subtitled Cretan simply because it incorporates some elements of Cretan folk music. It is a short, colourful and tuneful work of great charm cast in a fairly traditional 20th century mainstream idiom, with echoes of Khachaturian. The Adagio for soprano saxophone, strings and percussion was written much later, in 1993, and scored for trumpet or flute or clarinet. So, the work as heard here is yet another arrangement of this deeply-felt elegy dedicated to the victims of the Bosnian war.

The Skalkottas Concertino is a transcription and orchestration of his Concertino for oboe and piano composed in 1939. It is an accessible work in a comparatively light mood, and the expert transcription by Samprovalakis adds to the music’s accessibility. This, however, does not seem to be the first transcription of the piece; Günther Schüller arranged it for oboe and chamber orchestra and Piero Guarino scored it for oboe and strings. The piece works remarkably well in this saxophone arrangement.

Antoniou’s music is, I confess, new to me, as is that of Alexiadis and of Tenidis. His concise Concerto Piccolo is an attractive piece composed for and first performed by Kerkezos. While drawing on Greek rhythms, the music may again be described as ‘20th century mainstream’, and none the worse for that. The soloist’s part is quite taxing, particularly so in the various cadenzas. The piece opens with a cadenza and ends with another. The central movement is a lively dance with many intricate rhythms and a lot of tricky bits superbly negotiated by Kerkezos.

Alexiadis’s Phrygian Litany is another work dedicated to Kerkezos. As you may have guessed, the title refers to the Phrygian mode. The music is mostly warmly melodic, while the strings weave a somewhat repetitive tapestry, reminiscent of Arvo Pärt and the so-called Holy Minimalism. The music is warmer in tone and sometimes rises to impassioned singing. As far as I am concerned, this beautiful short piece is a real little gem.

Tenidis’s Rhapsody of Pontos is a more ambitious and deeply serious work as well as a virtuosic showcase for the soloist whose playing sometimes reminds one of some folk instrument - actually the Pontos lyra, as we are told in the detailed insert notes. The music is again permeated with folk rhythms from Pontos, and superbly scored. A most welcome rarity.

This selection ends with another song-without-words by Theodorakis’s contemporary, Manos Hadjidakis. Mr Knoll is a movement from a suite titled Gioconda’s Smile Op.23 and a fine example of this composer’s melodic gifts. Hadjidakis is particularly well-remembered as a composer of some excellent film scores (for Jules Dassin’s Never on Sunday) and of some highly successful ballet scores, such as The Birds, composed for Béjart. His concert output is still neglected. Maybe we will hear more of his “serious” music soon.

This is Theodore Kerkezos’s third record for Naxos; but, most importantly I think, is the first of what looks likely to be a new Greek Classics series from Naxos.

At the risk of repeating myself, Kerkezos’s immaculate playing is a miracle and a real joy from first to last. This cross-section of music by contemporary Greek composers from different generations and artistic horizons may safely be recommended.

Hubert Culot

see also Review by Patrick Waller  December Bargain of the Month



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