It’s entirely possible that anyone reading this will already
know something about the rather stuttering Greek Classics series
from Naxos. They may even possess the earlier Kalomiris disc.
that earlier disc (Naxos 8.557970) which includes the rather
pompous Third Symphony. It’s good though to welcome a
second volume and to expand our limited knowledge. It would
have been interesting to have one of the other symphonies available.
Again we are led through the music by Byron Fidetzis but this
time with differing orchestras. The first volume was with the
Athens State Orchestra and was recorded in 2005. This one is
with two sometimes rather dodgy Russian orchestras. It was recorded
rather a while ago and was originally to be found on the Greek
The disc opens with Rhapsody No. 1, originally
written for piano and published in 1925. It already has, in
some of its misty harmonies, various French influences in evidence
but the orchestration by Gabriel Pierné enhances the
effect and was done out of admiration and friendship for the
composer. It grows to a fine climax but even in its brevity,
has that characteristic bombast which some might find annoying.
Also the fact that the trumpets in the forte section are slightly
out of tune is rather too striking.
However one cannot but be very impressed with Byron Fidetzis’s
orchestration of the Rhapsody No. 2. According
to the wonderfully detailed and well-considered booklet notes
by Filippos Tsalahouris, Fidetzis considers this to be Kalomiris’s
best piano work and I can quite believe it. Learning from the
Pierné and from Kalomiris’s own colourful orchestrations
from the 1920s Fidetzis has given the work a French sheen and
polish. This is appropriate as the piano version was first published
in Paris. The opening ‘noises’ are wonderfully conceived
and I would love to know exactly what Kalomiris wrote. After
about ten minutes the piece reaches a climax of noble and almost
biblical proportions then dies back to how it started. The recording
is quite close but seems to bring out the best of the orchestration
if not of the orchestra.
To quote Patrick Leigh Fermor in his ‘Mani’ (John
Murray 1958 page 53) “All Greece abounds in popular poetry.
It is always sung and ... many of them accompany Greek dancing.”
If you know the country and the islands then you know that this
is still the case.
This well annotated CD also has a useful, separate essay about
the two other works.
The Death of the Valiant Woman was said by the
composer to be in ‘ballet form’. Indeed it did reach
the stage in 1945. Its dedication to Simone Seaille, a close
family friend, is because she was a resistance fighter for the
French who was executed by the Nazis. I commented in my earlier
review that it has been said of Kalomiris that his music is
“bombastic and lacking in taste”, but you have to
put yourself into the mind-set of a Greek patriot during the
war who had always possessed socialistic leanings. To disguise
his dread and anger at the death of a young nationalist dying
for her cause Kalomiris set the scenario in ancient Greece in
a story of courageous Greek women who fought alongside their
men. Kalomiris uses throughout a celebrated folk tune a dance
entitled Zaloggo, a melody in 7/8 time also used by Skalkottas
and Hadjinikos. It is also the name of a Greek monument dedicated
to freedom. This epic work begins with uncertainty and sadness
but triumph brings the CD to a suitably partisan end.
The other work, which immediately precedes it, is the longest
on the disc, Minas the Rebel. This is ‘true
story’ music, based on a novel by Kostis Bastias. As can
be heard right from the start this work seems really to have
captured the composer’s romantic imagination. It concerns
a young man who sails the Aegean, marries, has a child, watches
them die, loses his religious faith and on being suddenly made
blind, suddenly finds it again. He ends his days peacefully
as a monk, inducing an especially long and tranquil coda. The
music ends quite unexpectedly. So from its wild and passionate
beginning there comes a glowing insight into a world of spiritual
fulfilment. The performance by the Russian State Capella is
quite satisfactory and the recording much more so than other
works on this rather mixed blessing of a CD.
In truth I can’t get over-excited about In St. Luke’s
Monastery for narrator and orchestra. The music, although
elegiac and nicely orchestrated, is unmemorable. The narration
is tedious delivered by the rather gloomy Eva Kotamanidou. The
balance between voice and orchestra is indifferent and sometimes
distorted. The text is not given in the booklet but is apparently
available on the Naxos libretto website. I tried twice and,
at the time of writing (late-February) it is still “under
The whole experience concerning the story of a soldier with
a wooden leg returning home to his church and family in the
early hours of Easter Day is almost embarrassing so we will
rapidly move on.
Lyrics is to words by Angelos Sikelianos
(1884-1951). Once again I had no texts to help me follow closely
how Kalomiris was ‘painting’ with the orchestra.
Certainly he is quite lavish and at times passionate. Julia
Souglakou tackles it ‘womanfully’ but is battling
against an often poor balance, a sometimes exotic and overly
busy orchestration and an under-rehearsed Karlovy Vary orchestra.
Nevertheless, despite the numerous passages when I wondered
if the composer had instructed the singer to go for ‘can
belto’, the piece has many attractions, not least the
most Greek-sounding (I can’t say why) of the three sections:
the last called The First Rain. The other two are shorter
and are entitled Aphrodite Rising and The Holy Virgin
So, a mixed blessing then but there are certainly three works
here that I shall return to. Anyway the CD opens a fascinating
door onto Greek nationalist music, which outside Greece, listeners
hardly ever have an opportunity to scrutinise.