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Manolis KALOMIRIS (1883–1962)
Triptych (1937/40) [22:16]
Symphony No.3 in D minor “Palamian” (1955)* [30:39]
Three Greek Dances (1934) [8:46]
The Destruction of Psará (1949?)* [1:34]
Nikitas Tsakiroglou (narrator)*
Athens State Orchestra/Byron Fidetzis
rec. Athens Concert Hall Recording Centre, June-July 2005
NAXOS 8.557970 [63:15]



Manolis Kalomiris is generally – and rightly – regarded as the Father of Modern Greek Music. He composed a sizeable and varied output including five operas (1915-1961), three symphonies, concertos, orchestral works, songs and orchestral songs, of which very little is actually known outside Greece. This despite quite a number of his works having been issued in commercial recordings, but these do not seem to be readily available, which makes this release most welcome.
 
The Triptych for Orchestra was written in homage to the Greek statesman Eleftheros Venizelos who died in March 1936. The first panel opens with a virile, powerfully declamatory, aspiring theme. The music, however, has its more lyrical sections. The second movement is an intense funeral march, whereas the final part is a rather tempestuous, troubled movement, although it too has its calmer, more lyrical episodes. The bulk of Triptych is a sincere, deeply-felt tribute to Venizelos who was born in Crete, which is the reason why the music sometimes hints either at folk tunes and rhythms or at folk-inflected material. The original third movement was to have been for chorus and orchestra. It eventually became an independent choral work, and Kalomiris composed a new, purely orchestral Finale that now concludes the Triptych.
 
Kalomiris often admitted the importance of Costis Palamas’ work for his own creative achievement. Actually, his three symphonies (Levendia Symphony – 1920, Symphony of the Good and Innocent People – 1931 and the Third Symphony) are inspired by the Greek poet’s works. The Symphony No.3 in D minor, completed in 1955, bears the subtitle of ‘Palamian’, and words from Palamas’s poem A Fay Gave me Birth (in the first movement) and from The Dodecalogue of the Gypsy (in the other three movements) are recited over music, in some sort of melodrama. I know nothing of Palamas’ work, so it is difficult to know why Kalomiris had such a high regard for him, and how the music really relates to his poetic vision. The words are printed in translation in the insert notes, which helps a bit; but these do not explain why Kalomiris chose them. The music is strong enough to make its point - in purely musical terms; but some prior knowledge of Palamas’s achievement might enhance one’s appreciation of a work that is obviously highly regarded in Greek musical and artistic circles. Again, the strength of the music is what matters most, at least to foreign ears.

Structurally, the symphony is laid-out in four movements with a short Scherzo placed second. Much like the first panel of the Triptych, the first movement opens with a resolute, if at first slightly reticent theme that soon becomes more animated and strongly assertive. The music slows down to a lighter dance-like episode before regaining momentum, and moving forward with energy while briefly pausing in some short slower sections. The impetus is sustained for most of the first movement’s duration. It briefly holds back at the words “Thus I roam, a stranger/Through solitude’s way” before leading straight into the short dance-like Scherzo. The third movement Love is a beautifully lyrical meditation. The music is quite often lightly scored, with beautiful solos, except for a couple of impassioned climaxes. The fourth movement is again strongly epic in character, in much the same vein as the first movement. The music, again, has strong accents, with contrasting dance sections and some capricious rhythmical episodes; but the overall tone is one of powerful assertiveness. Kalomiris’s Third Symphony is undoubtedly a great piece of music in its own right, that judging from this performance clearly deserves to be heard.
 
The Three Greek Dances were assembled in 1934, but originate from earlier works. So, the opening Ballos is a piano piece composed in 1917. The second dance Idyllic Dance borrows material from Kalomiris’ first opera The Master Builder (1916) whereas the final dance Tsakonikos (“Dance from Tsakonia”) comes from his second opera The Mother’s Ring (1917). Kalomiris’s music is certainly more straightforward and less sophisticated that that of Skalkottas’s Greek Dances, but this short suite is pleasant enough, and well worth hearing.
 
The final work is something of a curiosity. First, it is not known when and why it was composed though it was first performed in 1949. Second, it is a short - under two minutes -  melodrama for narrator and orchestra on a short poem by Solomos written in homage to the island of Psará razed by the Ottomans in 1824 during the Greek War of Independence. Was it written to celebrate the renewed peace after the dark years of World War II? We do not know. Anyway, in spite of its brevity, this piece is quite effective in its way; and I was briefly reminded of Vaughan Williams’ wartime film scores, such as The 49th Parallel.
 
Although I had never heard any of Kalomiris’s music before, I had read some comments, mainly concerning his scoring described as sometimes rather thick and opaque. Well, true, similar comments were made about the scoring of Rubbra’s First Symphony, although repeated hearings of that work brushed these adverse comments aside. Anyway, I found this music really well made, memorable, warmly scored but never to the point of thickness or opacity. I am sure that the excellence of these performances and a very natural recorded sound help make this often beautiful and powerfully gripping music quite accessible. A superb ear-opener and one that certainly augurs well for the forthcoming instalments in what seems to be Naxos’s Greek Classics series.
 
Hubert Culot
 



 


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