Lost in the obsession with 20th-century composers like Stravinsky, Schonberg, and Shostakovich is the fact that many smaller countries began producing distinguished musicians of their own. Suddenly Germans and Russians were joined at the forefront of the musical world by Danes (Rued Langgaard), Swedes (Hugo Alfven), Japanese (Koscak Yamada), and now, according to this sensational new Naxos disc, Greeks. This is one of the first releases in the record label's new Greek Classics series, and boy is the series promising! (It should be. Naxos was a Greek island before it was a record company.)
Manolis Kalomiris wrote in a wondrous blend of styles, with exotic eastern melody, absolutely brilliant orchestration, the rhythmic drive of Khachaturian, and a sound-world all his own. His "Triptychon" is a particularly impressive work; the central section, a funeral march, gets a bit repetitive at times, but works because of the extraordinary orchestral sound (I especially love the closing moments, when varied solo instruments begin to transfigure the main theme and add folk-style colors). The finale comes to a smashing climax, providing one of the biggest adrenalin rushes in all music.
The Symphony No. 3 is more modernist in stance, and employs an unusual device: at various points, a narrator recites poetry over the music. This could be strange, but narrator Nikitas Tsakiroglou (who's been a prominent Greek movie actor since the 1970s) has the perfect voice for the job, foreboding, touching, emotional, and just a little creepy. The music matches that mood.
The three Greek Dances are the most immediately appealing works, perhaps, since they are modeled on Dvorak's Slavonic Dances in style and are quite simple. They, too, are enjoyable, and the brief little poem that finishes the CD is a nice encore.
All told, an excellent disc of world premiere recordings. The Athens State Orchestra, which premiered "Triptychon" under the baton of the composer himself, plays superbly, and the sound quality is wonderful. Big climaxes (like in "Triptychon") come off marvelously, and generate real excitement. Give credit to conductor Byron Fidetzis, too, for a job very, very well done.
Highly recommended for anyone wishing to sample a unique voice from the 1930s and 1940s, and for anyone who wants to try out Greek classical music. My only fear is that, having heard this one, I'm going to be compulsively buying every new disc in this Greek Classics series. That could become an expensive - but highly enjoyable - habit.