This CD is a good one with which to approach Nikos Skalkottas (1904-49) if
his music is unfamiliar to you and you prefer orchestral to instrumental
music. Unless you are totally allergic to serial music I would also recommend
playing the three works in reverse order for an exciting plunge into the
The Ouverture Concertante from the mid-1940s is in Skalkottas's most
developed serial method, but there really is no need to bother about that.
It is brilliant and exuberant, with solo winds, cello, timpani featured,
and a group of four solo violins. A very exciting piece, and without studying
the detailed notes by Nikos Christodoulos you'd never guess that there is
a central point after which there is a retrograde 'mirror' recapitulation.
It is an uncommonly exhilarating piece, only nine minutes long but full of
event and culminating with a presto coda.
After that you'll be ready for the first of Skalkottas's piano concertos
(one of nine surviving concertos). This dates back to 1931, when the composer
was in his late twenties, during his period in the Schonberg circle. Schonberg
apparently was displeased that Skalkottas used a group of thematically conceived
tone rows instead of remaining true to orthodoxy. The concerto was left in
Berlin after the composer returned to Athens, and only rediscovered after
his death. It is a very winning work, full of life and colour and much more
listener friendly than Schonberg's own piano concerto, which holds a tenuous
place in the concert repertoire. Again, Skalkottas uses reversal in the
imaginative recapitulation of his first movement. The next is expressive,
dramatic, dark and unusually original. The finale is high spirited and
dance-like, dispelling earlier tensions. Twenty-one minutes full of action!
Finally (that is firstly) is the major ballet suite of 1938 The Maiden
and Death, an example of the tonal music which Skalkottas continued to
compose alongside his serial compositions. It is picturesque, very atmospheric
and with elements of Greek folk music, all blended into a personal style
characterised by imaginative and vivid orchestration.
The performances and recording are splendid throughout and all this music
demands to be heard and, who knows, brought into the concert repertoire,
albeit belatedly. You may need a magnifying glass to help with the informative
biographical notes by Jason Dimitiades and the analytic notes on each work
by the conductor, Nikos Christodoulos.
(For more information about Skalkottas, read also my review of Skalkottas's
violin music on CD and Richard Whitehouse's review of a recent string quartet
concert in Seen&Heard (October 99).
Peter Grahame Woolf