About this Recording
8.572524 - KAKABADSE, L.: Phantom Listeners (The) / Arabian Rhapsody Suite / The Mermaid (Vass)

Lydia Kakabadse (b. 1955)
The Phantom Listeners • The Mermaid • Arabian Rhapsody Suite • Russian Tableaux • The Song of the Shirt


Of Georgian/Russian and Greek/Austrian parentage, Lydia Kakabadse started composing in her early teens and her works fall mainly into the category of music theatre, songs, choral and chamber music. Her distinctive style combines open triads and Gothic features with Middle Eastern traits and rich melody/texture.

Lydia Kakabadse grew up in Altrincham, Cheshire, and began piano lessons at the age of five, later studying the double bass under Ida Carroll. She went on to read music at Royal Holloway College, University of London, where she was a composition pupil of Brian Dennis. She then spent several years studying, teaching and performing Greek and Middle Eastern dance, the rhythmic and melodic features of which served to widen her creative writing. This is evidenced in a number of her works, most notably the Arabian Rhapsody Suite. In recent years a selection of her works has been performed at Ely Cathedral, St John’s Smith Square in London and Norwich Cathedral.

The Mermaid

For mezzo-soprano, narrator, piano and strings, The Mermaid, based on a story by the composer, was adapted in 2005 from one of Lydia Kakabadse’s early compositions and revised in 2008.

I Enchanting Times. Persephone, a mermaid, is much loved by her fellow sea creatures (her “cherubs of the sea”). Her first song, the Mermaid’s Song, features the piano’s extensive use of arpeggios portraying the cascading waves. Persephone’s second song, the Calling Song, is sung whenever she wishes to call her cherubs to her. The scene ends with a sense of foreboding as the double bass plays a variation of the Calling Song in its higher register.

II Danger Lurks. An ominous basso ostinato heralds Persephone’s capture by pirates. As the pirates’ boat sails away with Persephone imprisoned and languishing on board, the Mermaid’s Song, played sempre tempo rubato, is restated in an ornately varied form by each of the viola, cello and violin. Persephone falteringly sings her Calling Song as the boat takes her evermore further from her beloved cherubs.

III Cherubs to the Rescue. The cherubs are led to the pirates’ boat by Persephone’s enchanting Calling Song. They manage to overthrow the pirates and set about rescuing Persephone, the urgency of which is represented by the fast chromatic playing of the violin and viola, a fourth apart. Fully recovered from her ordeal, a joyous Persephone hums the Mermaid’s Song, accompanied by the gentle rippling effect of the piano.

Russian Tableaux

For string quartet (violin, viola, cello, double bass), Russian Tableaux was composed in 2009.

I Mother Volga. The river Volga is known as the mother of Russian civilisation and came to be called “Mother Volga”. Accompanied by the double bass, the piece opens with the cello, followed by the viola and then the violin, each representing a tributary that flows into the river. As the river gathers momentum following the announcement of the main theme by the cello, the viola attempts to steer a steady course against the meandering strings and brings the piece to an end with arpeggio-like runs.

II “1917”. Depicting the aftermath of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the ensuing misery and sense of desolation, this movement opens with the cello playing the main theme grave con dolore, accompanied by the double bass. This theme is then taken up by the violin and later by the viola in their lower registers. Despite an increase in tempo, the feeling of despair cannot be shaken off.

III Dance of the Matryoshka Dolls. The matryoshka is a hollow wooden doll containing a number of smaller dolls. The dance starts fast and lively and the first theme, announced by the violin, characterizes the dainty dancing of the smaller dolls. In contrast, the second theme when played by the double bass, characterizes the heavy plodding movements of the larger dolls. The tempo reverts to the original Allegro, bringing the dance to a fast and furious close.

The Song of the Shirt

Of Lydia Kakabadse’s early compositions, only The Song of the Shirt, for soprano and piano, written when she was fifteen, is still performed today in its original form. The words, by Thomas Hood (1799–1845), depict abject poverty and the cruel exploitation of the poor. They conjure up a picture of a woman in rags, worn out by endlessly sewing in filthy, pitiful conditions, appealing to the consciences of men. The melancholic tone of the words is reproduced by the wide use of minor keys. The monotony of such a pitiful existence is reflected in the repetition of the same note and sequence of notes. The use of the falling augmented second, rising diminished seventh and open fifths adds to the desperation and misery.

Arabian Rhapsody Suite

Scored for string quartet (violin, viola, cello, double bass), Arabian Rhapsody Suite was composed in 2007–2008.

I Marrakesh. Much use is made of embellished melodies, syncopated rhythms, frequent accidentals and ornamented passages over an open fifth accompaniment, all of which seek to capture the thrilling vibrancy and mystique of Marrakesh. There is frequent interplay between the instruments and each one is given an opportunity to exhibit its technical ability.

II Reverie. As its name suggests, this movement is dream like in character. Played sempre tranquillo, it is characterized by the flow of dainty runs in the form of rising and falling triplets followed by the rapid alternation of notes an augmented second apart. The viola announces the main theme, which is later taken up by the violin and then the cello.

III Sultan’s Feast. Rich and heavy in equal measure and played con gusto, this movement features low register unison playing, accented off-beats, an abundance of melody and arpeggio-like accompaniments. With its fast arpeggio-like pizzicato accompaniment, the double bass simulates the pulsating throb of the tabla, bringing the movement to a piano close.

The Phantom Listeners

For soprano, mezzo-soprano, baritone, narrator, church pipe organ, percussion and strings, The Phantom Listeners was composed in 2005–2007, with a Latin text written by the composer. This musical drama was inspired by Walter de la Mare’s poem The Listeners, on which the first scene and epilogue are based. Lydia Kakabadse collaborated with her good friend and writer Jen Syrkiewicz, who added four more scenes. The voices, which collectively represent the phantom listeners, sing throughout in Latin.

I The Traveller’s Message. The Traveller unsuccessfully tries to obtain a response from a house inhabited by the Phantom Listeners, who strongly oppose his presence. Tubular bells and the sound of thunder dramatically set the scene followed by the introduction of a haunting theme on the double bass. The organ’s dramatic and discordant entry late in this scene is closely based on Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor. Before departing from the house, the Traveller leaves a message.

II Secrets of the House. Events leading up to the Traveller’s arrival at the house unfold. On the orders of an evil witch, the Phantom Listeners hold a maiden captive in the house and watch over her day and night. The maiden, who is betrothed to the Traveller, lies in a death-like sleep under the witch’s curse. In antiphonal style singing, the Phantom Listeners rejoice that the curse will continue for eternity and will never be broken.

III The Traveller Returns. The Traveller wanders aimlessly pondering the words of the curse and when at last he succeeds in deciphering the riddle, he resolutely rides back to the house. First without accompaniment and then with sparse string accompaniment, the Phantom Listeners meanwhile joyfully proclaim that if they guard the maiden diligently, they will be well rewarded. The mood, however, changes when the Traveller approaches the house.

IV The House Rages. Realising that the Traveller has succeeded in breaking the curse, the Phantom Listeners flee. The Traveller forces his way into the house and when he sees his beloved, the mood becomes mournful, culminating in both losing their lives. When the Phantom Listeners return to the house, they turn against the witch, whom they blame for the maiden’s death. Absorbing strange powers released from the spell, the house erupts into a rage entrapping the witch. V Reunited. The first part of this scene is happy and joyful as the two lovers are happily reunited. They rejoice at their good fortune and are married amid much celebration. The second part is dark and sinister, created by basso ostinato cello/double bass and discordant organ, depicting the house holding the Phantom Listeners captive. Their ominous chanting penetrates through the dark eerie night.

Epilogue. A young traveller knocks on the door of the haunted house. Mindful that this young traveller may be their saviour and therefore able to break the spell, the Phantom Listeners beg him to enter their house and remain there. They declare that he belongs to their shadowy world and should not go back to the world of men.

Lydia Kakabadse

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