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
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.