Manolis KALOMIRIS (1883-1962)
Orchestral works
Rhapsody No. 1 (1921) (orch. Gabriel Pierné (1925)) [6.54]; Rhapsody No. 2 - Song to the Night (1921) (orch. Byron Fidetzis (1998)) [13.12];
In St. Luke’s Monastery (text by Angelos Sikelianos) (1937) [10.17];
Lyrics (text by Angelos Sikelianos): I. Aphrodite Rising; II. The Holy Virgin of Sparta; III. The First Rain)) (1936-7) [16.07];
Minas the Rebel, Corsair of the Aegean (1939) [17.51]
The Death of the Valiant Woman (1941/3) [11.47];
Julia Souglakou (soprano) (Lyrics); Eva Kotamanidou (In St. Luke’s Monastery)
Russian State Capella; Karlovy Vary Symphony Orchestra/Byron Fidetzis
rec. Mosfilm Studios, Moscow, August 1992; State Opera Theatre Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic, 19-20 April 1995 (Lyrics). DDD
NAXOS 8.572451 [76.38]
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. I reviewed 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 Phormigx label.
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 preparation”.
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 of Sparta.
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. 

Gary Higginson 

A fascinating door opened onto Greek nationalist music.