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Dimitris DRAGATAKIS (1914-2001)
Complete Piano Works
Nostalgia (before 1949) [3:42]
Butterfly (before 1949) [2:23]
Little Ballad (1949)* [5:57]
Piano Sonatina No. 1 (1961) [6:38]
Piano Sonatina No. 2 (1963)* [7:23]
Antiques (1972) [11:49]
Anadromés II (Retrospections II) (1977) [5:22]
Etude I (1981)* [4:08]
Etude II (1981)* [3:13]
Inelia (1997)* [6:59]
Monologue No.4 (2001)* [11:04]
Lorenda Ramou (piano)
rec. 3-4 September 2007, Athens Concert Hall, Athens, Greece
*World premiere recordings
NAXOS GREEK CLASSICS 8.570789 [68:39]
Experience Classicsonline




 
Once again Naxos have put the majors to shame with this collection, much of it recorded for the very first time. I imagine most listeners would nominate Skalkottas and Xenakis as the best-known Greek composers but for some reason Dimitris Dragatakis – with more than 130 works to his name – remains largely unknown outside his homeland. This is reflected in his meagre discography of two or three CDs at most.
 
Admittedly Dragatakis is new to me too and I was curious to discover what – if anything – makes him distinctively Greek. His musical education – save for a break during World War II and the ensuing civil war – may have centred on Athens but his music is not narrowly nationalistic; indeed, the later works on this disc show that like many of his contemporaries he was swept along by the tide of post-modernism.
 
His early works, simply categorised as those written ‘before 1949’, include Nostalgia, Butterfly and Little Ballad. They are memorable miniatures, the first of which is strangely hypnotic at times with its burbling figure in the left hand, yet with a hint of more turbulent waters before the gentle opening theme returns. With its staccato opening and delicate little figures Butterfly is as light and engaging as any of its more illustrious rivals. By contrast Little Ballad is very different, much more angular and extrovert.
 
Pianist Lorenda Ramou, a graduate of the Athens National Conservatory, specialises in contemporary piano music – and it shows. Even in these early pieces there is something very appealing about her unselfconscious pianism, which reminds me of Pierre-Laurent Aimard playing Ligeti. Ramou, who has in fact studied with Aimard, really allows this music to flow freely, even in the more rigorous Little Ballad.
 
The liner-notes mention ‘traditional Greek elements’ in these early works, though that may be a little difficult to quantify. The predominant impression is one of very late Romanticism, on the cusp of something more uncompromising. The two Sonatinas (1961 and 1963) definitely fall into the latter category, and if we’re looking for something specifically Greek perhaps the rhythms of the Moderato fit the bill. That said, this is firmly in atonal territory, even though the Larghetto has moments of quasi-tonal charm. The Allegro has a quicksilver quality, the spikier right-hand melodies well caught by the Naxos engineers. Indeed, the acoustic is generally fine, with just enough weight in the bass and a pleasingly natural treble.
 
I imagine the craggy second Sonatina could sound a lot less appealing in some hands, but as with Victor Sangiorgio’s Stravinsky disc (see review) Ramou brings an extra degree of warmth to the music that is most welcome. Certainly the Largo is a lovely piece of writing, surprisingly lyrical and inward in spite of its obvious dissonances. The concluding Vivo is much more concentrated, severe even, but thankfully Ramou prevents it from ever sounding arid.
 
Antiques is much denser in its textures and extreme in its dynamics. Dragatakis described these pieces as ‘eight miniatures that summarise human history’, a title that isn’t particularly illuminating. The Largo is spiky, making use of single notes and clusters, with fragmented phrases and staccato touches for both hands. The first Allegretto presents a series of contrasting figures and the Moderato is much quieter but is somewhat terse. Throughout there are rhythmic fragments – often repeated – that give the music a degree of dynamism, especially in the second Allegretto. As for the Presto, Ramou brings out the brilliant pointillistic effects very well indeed.
 
Anadromés II, written five years later and supposedly based on a series of musical ideas the composer had used in the past, is in much the same vein. There are moments that sound almost baroque in their ornamentation, alternating with flourishes and repeated notes. For someone who was not a pianist Dragatakis certainly knew how to exploit the instrument’s expressive possibilities. And even though Ramou manages to find some warmth here this clearly isn’t for the easy listening brigade.
 
In the Etudes, both written in 1981, listeners may discern a faint current of lyricism beneath the music’s choppy surface. And in the second Etude there are even a few flourishes that sound positively Lisztian, but these are merely glimpses. Inelia, dedicated to the Greek pianist Elena Mouzala, and Monologue No.4, premiered by Ramou after the composer’s death, are the two most substantial pieces here. For all its outward virtuosity Inelia strikes me as unusually affectionate, even witty;  by contrast Monologue No. 4 is musically much darker and emotionally more direct than anything we’ve heard thus far.
 
Piano lovers really ought to sample this disc, if only to remind themselves that worthwhile and interesting music for the instrument doesn’t only emanate from central and northern Europe. The early pieces are very engaging and the later works, especially the final Monologue No.4, are well worth hearing. In between it’s less distinguished but well crafted nonetheless. As for Ramou she makes a good case for this composer.
 
Watch this space.
 
Dan Morgan
 


 


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