, April 2010
Yannis Markopoulos, who just turned 71, was one of the main figures behind the “Return to the Roots” movement in Greek music thirty years ago. The works presented on this album are mostly from the latest years, although some go back as far as half a century. Still, they are unified by the composer’s characteristic style. The works are melodic, with a firm bass and rather conservative harmonic progression. Rhythm plays a vital part, and folk elements are abundant. The music is for the most part tonal, at times bordering on minimalistic. Melodies avoid large leaps, usually going up and down the scale, or circling around a note.
The opening Pyrrichios Dance No. 13 gives a good preview of the style. The composer succeeds in making it instantly likeable, but at the same time not tedious. He achieves this by combining the stable with the changing. The music is based on a very solid bass, almost static. The strings repeat their statements without much alteration, whereas the flute’s part is ever-changing, fluent like water, varying as in the best variations. The name Nemesis has no macabre connotations here. Nemesis is the Greek goddess of retribution, the bringer of balance, not necessarily vengeance. As the poet Mesomedes put it: “Nemesis, winged balancer of life, dark-faced goddess, daughter of Justice”. Here she dances, and soft are her steps. Which gives us another recurrent feature of Markopoulos’ works: his music often has gentle, feminine traits. And it is beautiful.
Shapes in Motion, a concerto for piano and orchestra, stylistically stands apart from other works on the album, and requires from the listener more effort to follow the stream of metamorphoses that the motifs undergo. In my humble opinion, there is too much repetition. The music is very intense throughout; there is literally no rest until the cadenza in the last movement. There’s a lot of excitement, for sure. Still, the work looks one-sided.
The Triptych is sunny summer-music. The delicate flute dances and sings. The strings are sensitive and supporting. As in Nemesis, the superimposing of stable and mutable makes the music approachable yet interesting. The three parts are in turn playful, pastoral and contemplative.
There is a lot of folk influence in the Concerto-Rhapsody for Cretan lyre and orchestra. The sound of the instrument is engaging: it could be compared to an oboe, as if a viola were compared to a clarinet. The tiny first movement introduces it in a wide, stately melody. The second movement, with its virile stomps and leaps, has much that is predictable, but does not become boring. The same scheme—stable bass and orchestral tutti, varying solo above—leads to interesting dialogues between instruments. There is a feeling of a group dance and of a certain inevitability. The dance gets faster in the third movement. The music has an almost hypnotic power, turning and swirling the dance motif again and again (and, for me, far too much)—until the orchestra puts a sudden end to proceedings.
I liked the Little Fantasy for flute and piano. It has a beautiful melody, which is developed like a song without words. It stands on the verge of “easy listening” music, but, in my opinion, does not cross it. All is moderate and balanced. Lamento is short but memorable. It has some British feeling around it. The momentum is good, the melody is attractive and suits the flute’s voice very well. Finally, Sunlit Landscapes for solo flute could be the Greek Lark Ascending: it “dreams itself along” in a similar way. This is not a buoyant way to end the album, I admit, but still a pleasant one.
All performances are devoted and technically immaculate. I would especially praise the sensitive and expressive flute of Marc Grauwels. The recording quality is excellent. The liner-notes tell you everything one could possibly wish to know about the composer, the works and the performers.