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Manos HADJIDAKIS (1925-1994)
Piano Works
For A Little White Seashell Op. 1 (1947-8) [17.08]
Six Popular Pictures Op. 5 (1949-50) [18.04]
Ionian Suite Op. 7 (1952-3) [8.58]
Rhythmology Op. 26 (1969-1971) [28.35]
Danae Kara (piano)
rec. Athens Concert Hall, Greece, 14 August 1995
NAXOS 8.570957 [73.01]
Experience Classicsonline

If you have heard of the gorgeous Danae Kara before - there is an attractive photo of her within the booklet - then it may be because she gave the premiere of Skalkottas’s massive third Piano Concerto and of other Greek works little known in Britain.

Speaking though of Skalkottas, as soon as I started listening to the earliest work here, Hadjidakis’s Op. 1 ‘For a Little White Seashell’ I was immediately reminded of him. This came across especially in the handling of the harmonization of the typically Greek melodies which are a feature of this most attractive set of ten short preludes. It’s not surprising that Hadjidakis wrote much film music; indeed this work is dedicated to the film director Nikos Koundouros with whom he often worked. This is young man’s music and the composer is still trying to find imaginative ways of using creatively his native rhythms and melodies. I was struck in this piece by the third prelude ‘Conversations with Prokofiev’ who was obviously a composer he admired and almost copies. You can hear the same trait in ‘Tsamikos’ the fourth prelude, whose melody reminded me of the composer’s best known ‘tune’, ‘Never on a Sunday’, played perpetually in Greek hotels but which was not actually written for another twelve years. Also the eighth prelude ‘Kalamatianos’ in 7/4 - or is it 7/8 - time a title used by Skalkottas in the eighth (coincidentally?) of his Greek Dances for orchestra (Series 1). The whole piece has charm and interest throughout.

The Op. 5 recorded here are the ‘Six Popular Pictures’ completed in 1950. These use and are based on six rebetika songs. The composer maintained that these seemingly very simple tunes had their roots in Byzantine music and orthodox chant, a point which was quite controversial at the time. Like other pieces this one was also turned into a ballet soon after its completion. Of the six we have such descriptive titles as ‘Cloudy Sunday’, ‘Lady’ (rather jazzy) and Moonless Night’, perhaps the most Greek-sounding of them all.

Hadjidakis’s Op. 7 comes next. By this time he was becoming very well established as a theatre composer with the Greek National Company in Athens and from that led to the film music. He only opused his ‘serious’ music as it were. Later on he was to move into the world of ballet and this brings us to the ‘Ionian Suite’ which was later, also turned into a ballet, a medium close Hadjidakis’s heart. It consists of five brief movements ending in a dance which is rather Turkish in inspiration; his mother was of Turkish extraction. The booklet notes by Danae Kara herself remark “They are intimate and playful in character with a naivety echoing Federico Mompou (1893-1987) whose music Hadjidakis liked.”

The last work on the disc is ‘Rhythmology’, completed in America as late as 1971. It consists of twelve movements and has a unique plan and format. A movement in an uneven compound time beginning with 5/8 is immediately paired off and contrasted with a movement in 2/4 called ‘Hasapiko’. So the first is paired with ‘Hasapiko in Aries’. The second is with ‘Hasapiko in Taurus’ and so on. Each therefore is based on a sign of the zodiac. The second movement is in 7/8, the third follows one in 9/8 etc, right up to 15/8. A Hasapiko, to quote Kara’s detailed booklet notes, is “a traditional popular dance of Byzantine origin”. The work is dedicated to George Seferis. The movements that stood out for me were the flowing elegance of the 9/8 dance and the one following ‘Hasapiko in Gemini’. The Greek melodic influence is certainly very audible but the rhythmic dance patterns used are also a strong element despite what Kara says in her notes, and anyway cannot be avoided all over the Greek islands. Incidentally Federico Mompou’s ‘Cançó i dansa’ - two paired movements with short contrasting ideas may be the nearest you can hear to the form adopted in Hadjidakis’s ‘Rhythmology’.

On the whole this disc represents light music but of a high calibre. None the worse for that I hear you cry, and quite right too. So now I’ve told you about it you can decide for yourselves but my advice is to snap up this delightful and fascinating disc as soon as you can. It will offer you much pleasure. 
Gary Higginson 


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