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Nickitas DEMOS (b.1962)
Aegean Counterpoint - Chamber Music
Suite for Oboe, Viola and Piano (2000) [18:58]1
Tonoi II (2000) [11:25]2
Three Gestures for Solo Cello (1990) [10:41]3
Mnimosinon (1989) [11:53]4
Tonoi I (1999) [6:25]5
Postscript (1992) [6:20]6
1Yvonne Powers Peterson (oboe); Tania Maxwell-Clements (viola); Cary Lewis (piano); 2Cary Lewis (piano); 3David Hancock (cello); 4William Rappaport (clarinet); David Hancock (cello); Monica Hargrave (harp); Jeffrey Kershner (percussion); Jessica Graham (off-stage clarinet); 5Tania Maxwell-Clements (viola); 6Ted Gurch (bass clarinet); Craig Hultgren (cello)
rec. dates and locations not provided.
MSR CLASSICS MS1193 [65:39]


Experience Classicsonline

Of Greek origins – origins which inform more than a few of his pieces – Nickitas Demos is Associate Professor and Coordinator of Composition Studies at the Georgia State University School of Music in Atlanta. On the evidence of the chamber pieces heard here, his own music is emotionally direct and powerful in an essentially tonal language which most should find easily accessible. Indeed there is an openness to the music which is thoroughly welcoming, without ever being merely populist.

The earliest piece here, Mnimosinon, takes its title from the name of a memorial service in the Greek Orthodox church, held on the anniversary of a death, at which prayers are offered for the peace of the soul of the departed, hymns are sung, and a tray of boiled wheat is brought to the church, as a token of the immortality of the soul. Demos’ Mnimosinon was written for the anniversary of his father’s death, his father having been a clarinet player, conductor and professor of music and captures something of the purposeful ritual of the service. An opening cadenza for clarinet sets a suitably introspective (and retrospective?) mood and is succeeded by delicate interplay between clarinet, cello, harp and percussion, the lines initially rather fragmentary and often echoic but later building in length, in which there are passages of real beauty. A cadenza for cello – an instrument for which Demos seems to write particularly well – sustains the elegiac mood. Towards its close the rhythmic impulse of the work becomes more insistent and there is also quotation from what is the final hymn chanted at a Mnimosinon (‘May his memory be eternal’), the off-stage clarinet deployed as a suggestion of that other spiritual realm which the souls of the dead now inhabit. The whole is moving and richly expressive.

In his notes, Demos observes that when he wrote his Three Gestures for Solo Cello (the year after Mnimosinon) he thought of the piece as wholly abstract in character. He has since come to recognise its affinities with the preceding work and sees the three movements of this piece as also related to his father’s death. The opening movement (‘Intently’), has a grave and meditative quality, the second (‘Gently’) is dominated by some elegiac writing in fifths, and the third (‘Playfully’) shifts the mood, becoming celebratory in its use of elements from Greek folk song and dance, in a lively movement full of technically demanding writing. The demands of all three movements are well met by cellist David Hancock who puts a persuasive case for the piece.

Tonoi I and II are the first in an ongoing sequence of pieces for solo instruments. Tonoi I, played with technical assurance and conviction by Tania Maxwell-Clements, contains some striking passages and suggests, once more, that writing for strings seems to be particularly stimulating to this composer’s musical imagination. Certainly, Tonoi II, while perfectly well played (so far as one can judge without a score) by Cary Lewis, seems rather more of an exploration of instrumental resource and idiom, less fully charged musically and emotionally, as it were. There are rather more effects than causes here.

The Suite for Oboe, Viola and Piano, on the other hand, is an exciting, musically sophisticated piece, full of tonal complexity and structural sophistication without ever running the risk of being merely clever. The impulsive speed, sudden bursts of dense of sound, equally sudden droppings away into a far thinner texture, which characterise the first movement (‘Circle Music’) contrast very effectively with – and give a particular meaning to – the second movement which lives up to its title – ‘in praise of stillness’ – through its prolonged melodic lines and barely shifting harmonies. A finely put together movement, all the better when heard after its predecessor. In the third movement (Aegean Counterpoint’), the piano drops out, and the dialogue of oboe and viola is lively and conversational in its counterpointed lines and phrases, before in the final movement (Aubade’) the piano returns, in music which grows and burgeons in ways not hard to relate to its title. The whole makes a fine trio which deserves to be more widely played and heard.

Postscript, fittingly enough, rounds off a rewarding programme of chamber music, the piece being described by its composer as an exploration of “the interplay between silence and rhythmic activity”. At times I was reminded both of Mediterranean folk phrasing and the bass-clarinet of Eric Dolphy; these particular connections may be mine more than the composer’s, but Demos is certainly a composer whose ears are open to many different musical idioms, but who is able to synthesise them into coherent music of a distinctive kind. There is much here that I will return to frequently, I suspect.

Glyn Pursglove


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