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Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, April 2007

This is a follow-on to two previous Kerkezos releases, both reviewed in 28:5. This time, saxophonist Theodore Kerkezos lavishes his considerable talent exclusively on works by 20th-century Greek composers, in contrast to the mixed, eclectic programs offered previously. All but Theodorakis's Cretan Concertino-which was composed in 1952 as a sonatina for violin and piano-and Skalkottas's Concertino-composed in 1939 for oboe and piano-were written for alto or soprano sax. All items on the disc are, according to Naxos, world premiere recordings. The saxophone, to my ear, is an instrument that can be mellifluous, soothing, and highly expressive-when it is well played, that is; and no one I know of on the scene today plays it with more of a polished technique or produces such a honeyed sound as Theodore Kerkezos.

The choice of repertoire here needn't frighten anyone away. For the most part, these are pieces with a traditional pedigree wearing the outer trappings of a highly palatable modernist style. In fact, all of the music here is accessible and quite beautiful. The Cretan Concertina immediately reveals its composer's French training at the Paris Conservatory; its first movement has the character of a jazzy Latin dance that took a detour on its way to Piazzolla via Milhaud. The second movement is a touching lament, and the third movement starts off like The Flight of the Bumblebee. Less than four minutes in length, Theodorakis's Adagio is the kind of piece you will play over and over again. It is dirge of heartrending beauty with an underlying accompaniment that is close to an exact takeoff on Rachmaninoffs Isle of the Dead. Theodorakis, you will recall, composed the score to Zorba the Greek, so here is a composer who knows how to write music for maximum emotional effect. Skalkottas's Concertino is a perky, plucky thing. His studies with Schoenberg may have led him to write in a non-tonal idiom, but this piece is full of wit in its first and last movements, and dreamily Impressionistic in its second. Theodor Antoniou's Concerto piccolo, written as recently as 2000 and dedicated to Kerkezos, is no more modem sounding than is the Skalkottas. Minas Alexiadis's Phrygian Litany follows in a mood somewhat similar to Theodorakis's Adagio; while Vassilis Tenidis's highly colorful, cinematic Rhapsody of Pont os is a more animated, ethnocentric sounding piece, based as it is on the rhythms and altered scales of the folk dances of Pontos.

In a typed note from Kerkezos that came to me separate from the CD, he asked that I pay special attention to Manos Hadjidakis's "Mr. Knoll," a piece that apparently resonates for him with some particular meaning. Another film composer, Hadjidakis won an Oscar for his song in Never on Sunday. Like Theodorakis, Hadjidakis knows how to pull the heartstrings, and "Mr. Knoll," the seventh movement of an extended song cycle titled Gioconda's Smile, is definitely a tearjerker with an unhappy ending.

This is a wonderful CD. I love this music, I love Kerkerzos's playing of it, and I cannot recommend it to you too highly.

Richard Whitehouse
Gramophone, March 2007

Theodore Kerkezos's third album for Naxos offers a viable if by no means inclusive overview of post­war Greek music. The work by Nikos Skalkottas is his Oboe Concertino (1939), given a bracing neo­classical astringency in this idiomatic transcription for soprano sax and strings by Yannis Samprovalakis, whose arrangement of the less inspired First Violin Sonatina (1952) by Mikis Theodorakis as the Cretan Concertino is not so convincing. More persuasive is this composer's own arrangement of his Adagio (1993) commemorating victims of the Bosnian war (the original is on Dutoit's Theodorakis overview on Decca), a poignant threnody that highlights his melodic gift. Similarly adept across genres, Manos Hadjidakis is represented by the atmospheric "Mr Knoll" from the song-cycle Gioconda's Smile­ revealing an ear for melody that puts higher­profile practitioners of "crossover" to shame.

The remaining pieces here were all written for Kerkezos. Theodore Antoniou's Concerto piccolo (2000) evinces a strikingly imaginative orchestral palette - whether in its driving central "Danza" or the inward outer movements that the saxophone dominates with its searching soliloquy. Less absorbing is Vassilis Tenidis's Rhapsody of Pontos (1997), a relentless medley of melodic and rhythmic elements whose virtuosity cannot disguise its paucity of content. More appealing is Minas Alexiadis's Phrygian Litany, a processional whose take on so-called "Holy Minimalism" is informed by no mean tonal and textural subtlety. Ably accompanied by the Thessaloniki orchestra and Myron Michailidis, this vividly recorded and well documented disc is Kerkezos's most intriguing yet.

Hubert Culot
MusicWeb International, February 2007

The collective title of this recent release is to be taken with a pinch of salt. The unifying factor is the immaculate playing of Theodore Kerkezos, for whom some of the works recorded here were written; but three of them were not originally conceived for the saxophone. That said, this disc is thoroughly enjoyable throughout. Moreover, the orchestrations of the works of Theodorakis and Skalkottas have been superbly done by Yannis Samprovalakis. In fact, Theodorakis’s Cretan Concerto is an arrangement for saxophone and orchestra of his First Violin Sonata composed as early as 1952 and subtitled Cretan simply because it incorporates some elements of Cretan folk music. It is a short, colourful and tuneful work of great charm cast in a fairly traditional 20th century mainstream idiom, with echoes of Khachaturian. The Adagio for soprano saxophone, strings and percussion was written much later, in 1993, and scored for trumpet or flute or clarinet. So, the work as heard here is yet another arrangement of this deeply-felt elegy dedicated to the victims of the Bosnian war.

The Skalkottas Concertino is a transcription and orchestration of his Concertino for oboe and piano composed in 1939. It is an accessible work in a comparatively light mood, and the expert transcription by Samprovalakis adds to the music’s accessibility. This, however, does not seem to be the first transcription of the piece; Günther Schüller arranged it for oboe and chamber orchestra and Piero Guarino scored it for oboe and strings. The piece works remarkably well in this saxophone arrangement.

Antoniou’s music is, I confess, new to me, as is that of Alexiadis and of Tenidis. His concise Concerto Piccolo is an attractive piece composed for and first performed by Kerkezos. While drawing on Greek rhythms, the music may again be described as ‘20th century mainstream’, and none the worse for that. The soloist’s part is quite taxing, particularly so in the various cadenzas. The piece opens with a cadenza and ends with another. The central movement is a lively dance with many intricate rhythms and a lot of tricky bits superbly negotiated by Kerkezos.

Alexiadis’s Phrygian Litany is another work dedicated to Kerkezos. As you may have guessed, the title refers to the Phrygian mode. The music is mostly warmly melodic, while the strings weave a somewhat repetitive tapestry, reminiscent of Arvo Pärt and the so-called Holy Minimalism. The music is warmer in tone and sometimes rises to impassioned singing. As far as I am concerned, this beautiful short piece is a real little gem.

Tenidis’s Rhapsody of Pontos is a more ambitious and deeply serious work as well as a virtuosic showcase for the soloist whose playing sometimes reminds one of some folk instrument - actually the Pontos lyra, as we are told in the detailed insert notes. The music is again permeated with folk rhythms from Pontos, and superbly scored. A most welcome rarity.

This selection ends with another song-without-words by Theodorakis’s contemporary, Manos Hadjidakis. Mr Knoll is a movement from a suite titled Gioconda’s Smile Op.23 and a fine example of this composer’s melodic gifts. Hadjidakis is particularly well-remembered as a composer of some excellent film scores (for Jules Dassin’s Never on Sunday) and of some highly successful ballet scores, such as The Birds, composed for Béjart. His concert output is still neglected. Maybe we will hear more of his “serious” music soon.

This is Theodore Kerkezos’s third record for Naxos; but, most importantly I think, is the first of what looks likely to be a new Greek Classics series from Naxos.

At the risk of repeating myself, Kerkezos’s immaculate playing is a miracle and a real joy from first to last. This cross-section of music by contemporary Greek composers from different generations and artistic horizons may safely be recommended.

Patrick Waller
MusicWeb International, December 2006

Apparently the start of another series from Naxos – Greek Classics – there is a double attraction here: the instrument and the origins of the music. But if you glanced casually at the information above and thought that you’d never heard anything by these composers, you might well be wrong since Mikis Theodorakis and Manos Hadjidakis wrote the music for the films Zorba the Greek and Never on Sunday respectively. Theodorakis is also well-known politically for opposing the military regime of the late 1960s and early 1970s. He was initially locked up and tortured, and then like Hadjidakis went into exile. Both returned to their homeland and in the 1990s Theodorakis became a minister in the Greek government.

Theodorakis was born on the island of Chios but his Concertino derives inspiration from the traditional music of Crete. Originally conceived as a sonatina for violin and piano in 1952, it has only very recently been arranged for alto saxophone and orchestra by Yannis Samprovalakis. Like all the other works on the disc, this is its first recording. In three movements, it is attractive with a particularly winsome finale which alternately makes great demands on the fingers of the soloists and then relaxes into gorgeous lyricism. The soulful adagio which follows dates from 1993 and is for soprano saxophone with only strings and percussion as accompaniment.

The next Concertino has also been arranged recently by Samprovalakis. As a young man the composer Skalkottas went to Berlin to study with Schoenberg. He returned to Athens and earned his living as a back desk violinist whilst composing extensively both tonal and atonal music in which there was no interest all. He died of a strangulated hernia on the day his second son was born. Posthumous recognition of his music seems to be gaining momentum. The work played here was written in 1939 for oboe and piano and has been the subject of other arrangements. Also structured in three movements, this tonal work has greater depths than anything else on the disc. The deeply searching slow movement, which also includes a solo violin part, is notable.

The Concerto Piccolo by Antoniou is played on the alto saxophone and was written in 2000 for the present performer. The composer has been a significant figure on the US musical scene since the 1970s and that is detectable in this music although Greek rhythms are also present. The three-movement structure is episodic and the percussion are prominent in the dances of the second movement.

The Phrygian Litany by Alexiadis is again dedicated to saxophonist Theodore Kerkezos. This is an extended song based on traditional music from Asia Minor. The inspiration for the Rhapsody of Pontos also comes from Asia Minor – this area is now part of Turkey and has a complex history. Some members of the family of the composer Tenidis came from the area. He initially trained as a lawyer before concentrating on music and becoming a conductor. The work dates from 1997 and often sounds quite oriental. The final piece – Mr Knoll – is taken from Gioconda’s Smile a famous collection of instrumental songs. With an additional unaccredited bouzouki solo, this concludes the disc on an impassioned note.

Theodore Kerkezos is a most impressive player who is strongly associated with much of this music. The supporting cast and engineers have also done a fine job and there are good notes. Whether your motivation is to hear music for the saxophone or from Greece, this disc is an unmissable bargain.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group