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Alan Becker
American Record Guide, July 2009

Yes, this is the same Greek composer familiar to us for the film “Never on Sunday”. Here the short piano pieces—the longest movement is less than four minutes—have a pithy, earthy quality that sounds somewhat like a Greek Prokofieff with an addiction to folk dance rhythms.

For a Little White Seashell is a suite that includes five pairs of preludes followed by traditional Greek dances. Its ten movements are melodic, rhythmic, and entertaining. There is plenty of variety, and none overstays its welcome. Furthermore, none is subject to any form of development or sectionalization. The Six Popular Pictures from 1950 are arrangements of Rebetka songs and have a homespun nostalgia that more than flirts with the popular music of the isles. It’s all very pleasant and certain to warm the heart of every true Greek. One can almost visualize (non-Greek) Anthony Quinn snapping his fingers while dancing as Zorba.

The Ionian Suite and Rhythmology have similar charms. Most of the time they are light and frothy, with a generosity of melody and little in the way of complications, save a change of meter for each of the opening pieces in the pairings of Rhythmology. They go from 5/8, 7/8, 9/8 and up to 15/8. It seems appropriate that these suites have been choreographed.

Greek pianist Danae Kara has just the right temperament to make this music come to life. Her written notes are more than interesting, and the sound of her Steinway D is cleanly captured by the engineering.

Gary Higginson
MusicWeb International, June 2009

If you have heard of the gorgeous Danae Kara before—there is an attractive photo of her within the booklet—then it may be because she gave the premiere of Skalkottas’s massive third Piano Concerto and of other Greek works little known in Britain.

Speaking though of Skalkottas, as soon as I started listening to the earliest work here, Hadjidakis’s Op. 1 ‘For a Little White Seashell’ I was immediately reminded of him. This came across especially in the handling of the harmonization of the typically Greek melodies which are a feature of this most attractive set of ten short preludes. It’s not surprising that Hadjidakis wrote much film music; indeed this work is dedicated to the film director Nikos Koundouros with whom he often worked. This is young man’s music and the composer is still trying to find imaginative ways of using creatively his native rhythms and melodies. I was struck in this piece by the third prelude ‘Conversations with Prokofiev’ who was obviously a composer he admired and almost copies. You can hear the same trait in ‘Tsamikos’ the fourth prelude, whose melody reminded me of the composer’s best known ‘tune’, ‘Never on a Sunday’, played perpetually in Greek hotels but which was not actually written for another twelve years. Also the eighth prelude ‘Kalamatianos’ in 7/4—or is it 7/8—time a title used by Skalkottas in the eighth (coincidentally?) of his Greek Dances for orchestra (Series 1). The whole piece has charm and interest throughout.

The Op. 5 recorded here are the ‘Six Popular Pictures’ completed in 1950. These use and are based on six rebetika songs. The composer maintained that these seemingly very simple tunes had their roots in Byzantine music and orthodox chant, a point which was quite controversial at the time. Like other pieces this one was also turned into a ballet soon after its completion. Of the six we have such descriptive titles as ‘Cloudy Sunday’, ‘Lady’ (rather jazzy) and Moonless Night’, perhaps the most Greek-sounding of them all.

Hadjidakis’s Op. 7 comes next. By this time he was becoming very well established as a theatre composer with the Greek National Company in Athens and from that led to the film music. He only opused his ‘serious’ music as it were. Later on he was to move into the world of ballet and this brings us to the ‘Ionian Suite’ which was later, also turned into a ballet, a medium close Hadjidakis’s heart. It consists of five brief movements ending in a dance which is rather Turkish in inspiration; his mother was of Turkish extraction. The booklet notes by Danae Kara herself remark “They are intimate and playful in character with a naivety echoing Federico Mompou (1893–1987) whose music Hadjidakis liked.”

The last work on the disc is ‘Rhythmology’, completed in America as late as 1971. It consists of twelve movements and has a unique plan and format. A movement in an uneven compound time beginning with 5/8 is immediately paired off and contrasted with a movement in 2/4 called ‘Hasapiko’. So the first is paired with ‘Hasapiko in Aries’. The second is with ‘Hasapiko in Taurus’ and so on. Each therefore is based on a sign of the zodiac. The second movement is in 7/8, the third follows one in 9/8 etc, right up to 15/8. A Hasapiko, to quote Kara’s detailed booklet notes, is “a traditional popular dance of Byzantine origin”. The work is dedicated to George Seferis. The movements that stood out for me were the flowing elegance of the 9/8 dance and the one following ‘Hasapiko in Gemini’. The Greek melodic influence is certainly very audible but the rhythmic dance patterns used are also a strong element despite what Kara says in her notes, and anyway cannot be avoided all over the Greek islands. Incidentally Federico Mompou’s ‘Cançó i dansa’—two paired movements with short contrasting ideas may be the nearest you can hear to the form adopted in Hadjidakis’s ‘Rhythmology’.

On the whole this disc represents light music but of a high calibre. None the worse for that I hear you cry, and quite right too. So now I’ve told you about it you can decide for yourselves but my advice is to snap up this delightful and fascinating disc as soon as you can. It will offer you much pleasure.

Peter Burwasser
Fanfare, May 2009

Manos Hadjidakis was born in northern Greece in 1925. He was a constant and authoritative presence in the chaotic Greek scene of the latter half of the 20th century, but was also active in the movie business. His song Never on Sunday won an Academy Award in 1960 for the film of the same name. He died in 1994. This CD presents a collection of his solo piano music, spanning a period from 1947 to 1971. Although he took some classes at the Athens Conservatory, he was largely self-taught. Nevertheless, his music is well constructed and compelling. His language is mainly derived from folk sources, primarily dance, with vibrant rhythms and interesting harmonic flashes elevating the material from banality. Juilliard-trained Greek pianist Kara presents the music with delightful energy and color.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, December 2008

Maybe the name of Manos Hadjidakis is not well known to you, but his vocal number, Never on Sunday, has been named among the ten most popular songs of the 20th century. Despite this international adulation, he was often out of favour with the Greek music establishment, his upbringing in the war years leaving him with meager formal musical education. Yet throughout his career he was able to gain work in diverse fields, including ballet, cinema, song and piano pieces, four of of those keyboard compositions included in this excellent release. His lack of schooling became a benefit in music that was never hidebound by accepted formats, and was happy to move between classical and popular modes. His first published work, For a Little White Seashell, was completed when he was twenty-three, and brings together Greek dance-tunes set within a classical framework, the ten short sections being highly contrasted. We move to light music for the Six Popular Pictures, highly evocative of the sounds that tourists enjoy today in street cafes. Showing he had academic credentials, Rhythmology places Greek dances between six preludes in odd rhythms - 5/8, 7/8, 9/8, 11/8/ 13/8 and 15/8. The disc is completed by the Ionian Suite, a brief score of five cameos where he returned to the world of classics, Prokofiev’s influence often apparent. Nowhere does Hadjidakis offer outgoing virtuoso showpieces, the few technical hurdles easily surmounted by the highly experienced and much travelled Greek pianist, Danae Kara. She proves a most persuasive advocate, and if you want a sample go to track 21, the saucy scherzo finale of the Ionian Suite.

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