Dmitri Skalkottas (1904-49) is one of my favourite composers. He would be
much better known in UK if he had not chanced to come from Greece, one of
several countries which are marginal to the contemporary music scene, leaving
us with a distorted and blinkered, Anglocentric, view of the century's music.
He studied with Schönberg in Berlin, but returned to Athens and complete
obscurity when Hitler came to power. For a time, during the 60s as I recall,
Skalkottas was featured in London and Oxford at the English Bach Festival
(which included good helpings of modern Greek music), due to the enthusiasm
and generosity of Lina Lalandi. I remember from that time a notable performance
of a piano concerto, so lengthy and difficult that three pianists shared
the three movements! Afterwards, Skalkottas disappeared from notice again.
He died in 1949, but his music still sounds fresh and modern, very much so
as against what was being written in UK, though not in a way that should
frighten off anyone who has belatedly become used to some of the 2nd Viennese
school music of the beginning of the century through the championship of
Glock and Boulez not so long ago. Skalkottas was prolific, unappreciated
and reclusive, but eventually revealed as one of the most important and
accessible of dodecaphonic composers, being relaxed and pragmatic in his
use of tone rows, often several in the same work. He continued, also, to
compose tonally in parallel with his serial compositions. Skalkottas's music
is optimistic, usually lively in its rhythms and instrumentation, serialism
with a dash of the Mediterranean sun.
BIS is doing him proud, as they have before for Schnittke. But perhaps this
project is even more important, because Schnittke has been widely performed
and recorded by others during his lifetime and since. In his concert review
(S&H November 1999)
of a fleeting, indeed furtive, visit to London of Georgios Demertzis with
his New Hellenic Quartet, Richard Whitehouse recommends Demertzis 's recording
of Skalkottas's violin concerto.
Here he tackles the substantial body of music for violin, Skalkottas's own
instrument - he only abandoned a virtuoso career in order to devote himself
to composition, whilst earning his living playing in the back desks of the
Athens Symphony Orchestra.
The solo sonata (1925) in four movements, modern but looking back to Bach
and baroque forms, ought to be in violinists' regular repertoire. The sonatinas
are substantial works, belying the diminutive. The seven character pieces
which end this marvellous recital range over elements which will be met with
in Skalkottas's other music. The March of the little soldiers is a wry
anti-militaristic miniature; the Nocturne expansive and lyrical, the Rondo
a rapid, ironical, overview of the technique of violin-playing, the final
Menuetto Cantato employs mirror-like reversal in its second half.
Authoritative performances by these two artists, and impeccable recording.
The extensive notes, including a brief biography, are by another Demertzis
(relationship, if any, undisclosed).
Recommended with all enthusiasm.
Peter Grahame Woolf