DRAGATAKIS (1914-2001) Complete Piano Works Nostalgia (before1949) [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]
rec. 3-4 September 2007, Athens Concert Hall, Athens, Greece
*World premiere recordings NAXOS GREEK CLASSICS
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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