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Eleni KARAINDROU (b. 1941)
Tous des oiseaux
Music for the play Tous des oiseaux (2017) [36:40]
Music for the film Bomb, A Love Story (2018) [21:46]
Savina Yannatou (voice), Giorgos Kontoyannis (percussion, Cretan lyra), Sokratis Sinopoulos (Constantinople lyra, lute), Nikos Paraoulakis (ney), Stefanos Dorbarakis (kanonaki), Alexandros Botinis (cello), Stella Gadedi (flute), Vangelis Christopoulos (oboe), Yannis Evangelatos (bassoon), Dinos Hadjiiordanou (accordion), Aris Dimitriadis (mandolin), Maria Bildea (harp),
Eleni Karaindrou (piano)
Camerata Orchestra
rec. 2017/18, Sierra Studios, Athens, Greece
ECM NEW SERIES 2634 [58:26]

A mainstay of Manfred Eicher’s ECM catalogue for more than four decades, Eleni Karaindrou’s extensive discography for the label has comprehensively traced her career as the composer of choice of the great Greek film-maker Theo Angelopoulos. Her scores for his classic films such as Ulysses’ Gaze or The Weeping Meadow are suffused with melancholy and a distinctly Mediterranean brand of nostalgia, which aptly mirror Angelopoulos’s key themes such as exile and displacement. Since his death in 2012, Karaiandrou’s recent discs have encompassed a cantata based on 18th century Aegean theatre (David – ECM 2221), a score to accompany a production of Euripides’s Medea directed by her husband Antonis Antypas (ECM 2376) and a kind of ‘greatest hits’ two-disc Concert in Athens recorded in 2010 and released in 2013 (ECM 2220 - review). This new disc twins two recent works: the incidental music for Lebanese-Canadian playwright Wajdi Mouadad’s drama Tous des oiseaux, and a suite curated from Karaindrou’s score for the 2018 Iranian film Bomb – A Love Story, directed by Payman Maadi. She is also known for her ethnomusicological work; the album features a number of exotic Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern instruments played by trusted Greek colleagues with whom she has collaborated across decades. Providing an appropriately cinematic, but never too lush, orchestral backdrop is the Camerata Orchestra led by Argyro Seira.

Mouadad’s play Tous des Oiseaux is an intense study of cultural identity which takes its cue from a romance between a German Jew and an American of Arab descent. The author originally wrote the piece in French, but the play is actually performed multi-lingually in four different languages: English, German, Hebrew and Arabic. It is apt, then, that the dozen numbers that comprise Karaiandrou’s score provide opportunities for collisions between conventional Western instruments (flute, cello, harp), piquant instrumental textures from Greece, Turkey and the Middle East (ney, Cretan and Constantinople lyras), a kanonaki (an extraordinary zither-like instrument which has variants across Europe, Asia, Africa and inevitably around the Middle East), an accordion, the plangent, yearning voice of ECM vocalist Savina Yannatou and the string orchestra. Yannatou’s contribution to four of the numbers is wordless – and thus in linguistic terms universal. Her singing in the ornate and delicately inflected ‘Lament’ (track 7) is unaccompanied and unforgettable. The fourth number, ‘Between Two Worlds’, is an extraordinary synthesis of the four exotic strummed instruments I identified above. Notwithstanding their often gloomy yet alluring countenance, I have at times struggled to find sufficient variety in the ECM albums of Karaiandrou’s film music without the images the music is designed to accompany, but the comparatively short 37 minutes of cues on offer here cohere marvellously. Many of these numbers, written for what was a theatre production, are allowed to breathe and develop. They are more substantial and less obviously functional than some of those movie cues. At its centre is a seven minute movement for string orchestra alone, 'David's Dream’. It is spare, drone-led and effortlessly profound. The brief cello solo that concludes the sequence, Je ne me consolerai jamais, is delivered most affectingly by Alexandros Botinis. It is as devastating at it is simple. Tous des oiseaux, then, is one of Karaiandrou’s most satisfying and absorbing scores. As one might expect, the performances of her loyal Greek musicians are seemingly flawless, as is Manfred Eicher’s precision production.

Peyman Maadi’s recent film Bomb, A Love Story is set in Tehran in 1988 at the height of the Iran-Iraq War. The Iranian capital is subjected to a relentless bombing campaign. Amid the inevitable, ghastly carnage, love somehow thrives and proves more than a match for the omnipresent fear of death. This was an unusual project for Karaiandrou to undertake; in her brief, enigmatic note in the booklet she hints at the (practical? political?) difficulties involved in participating in an Iranian production. It was clearly, however, an enterprise of enormous significance for her given that it was the first film score she produced following the death of Theo Angelopoulos. It is purely instrumental; the Constantinople lyra is retained while a lute, mandolin and piano (played by Karaindrou herself) are added to the mix. But the most interesting addition makes its mark in the opening cue ‘A New Beginning’. It is a surprise and a pleasure to hear the bassoon in four of the eleven brief numbers. This ‘overture’ could be a bassoon prayer by Arvo Pärt. It provides the main idée fixe that reappears in one form or another throughout the beginning of the sequence. It pervades the second cue, a ‘Love Theme’ that belies the title in its good taste, and triggers the beautifully buttoned up and bassoon-tinged ‘Waltz of Hope’ which follows. The rest of the episodes are briefer, seemingly more directly linked to the film scenes, but frankly they are no less touching. What an extraordinary singing sound the Constantinople lyra makes at the first presentation of Mitra’s theme (track 16). The eleven cues coalesce wonderfully and naturally across a 22-minute span.

At the end of the day one just has to trust Manfred Eicher. It is rare for such a wizard of sonic and aesthetic alchemy to miscalculate. If ever an album has made me want to re-engage with the output of an artist whom I have perhaps underestimated over the years, it’s Tous des oiseaux. It touched me well beyond my expectations.

Richard Hanlon

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