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Philip Greenfield
American Record Guide, July 2009

Yannis Markopoulos (b 1939) is one of Greece’s busiest and most popular composers. His Liturgy of Orpheus, a choral cantata based on ancient Orphic poems, dates from 1992. The texts are ancient Greek, but the piece is made up of short, easy-on-the-ear, pop-inspired melodies redolent of the eastern Mediterranean. The choruses are accompanied by lush, plush orchestral sounds, with the tunes repeated many, many times. Each chorus is preceded by a narrated portion of the Orpheus myth (in English), with the lovely harp playing a major role in accompanying the speaker.

All in all, this is bright, uncomplicated fare that I suspect some of you would enjoy, though the repetition of the big tunes had me saying “enough already” more than once. (Come to think of it, intelligent youngsters hooked on Greek mythology might really get a kick out of this.) Most of the melodies pass Van Dam’s way and he delivers them with gusto…The English narratives are printed in the booklet, and I’m assuming that the Greek choruses repeat those words and sentiments.

Rob Barnett
MusicWeb International, January 2009

This disc appears under the Naxos Greek Classics banner. Markopoulos was born in Crete. The sound of the Byzantine liturgy heard from the church across the road from his childhood home seeped into his marrow. This can certainly be heard in his Liturgy of Orpheus. Just as influential has been the music of the Eastern Mediterranean heard over the radio or at concerts in Heraklion. 1956 saw him moving from Crete to Athens to attend the Conservatory. His studies were broad and included philosophy and sociology alongside music. Early works include the Hiroshima ballet. When the Greek generals came to power in the late 1960s Markopoulos fled to London where he studied with Elizabeth Lutyens. Iannis Xenakis was also an influence. In 1977 he made his presence felt in the UK with the distinctive title music for the BBC TV series Who Pays the Ferryman? Returning to Greece he founded an ensemble using traditional Greek instruments including the lyre. His Palintonos Armonia Orchestra gave concerts throughout Greece and made several recordings. His works include the Concerto-Rhapsody for Lyre and Symphony Orchestra, the Healing Symphony and four quartets. After The Liturgy of Orpheus he wrote Re-Naissance: Crete between Venice and Constantinople, a musical tapestry—part oratorio  and part opera. It is in four movements. There’s also the opera Erotokritos and Areti. His Shapes in Motion (1999) is a piano concerto inspired by Pythagoras and dedicated to the composer’s daughter Eleni. Later came a spectacular oratorio for voices, choir, wind orchestra, ballet and video projection. Like The Liturgy of Orpheus this reflects the composer’s concern for stewardship of the environment… Despite the Xenakis and Lutyens references this music is anything but discordant or elitist avant-garde. There is about it a sense of a folk-mass. Its devotional atmosphere is perhaps contributed to by an incense-wreathed Greek Orthodox accent to the singing and writing. Lyre, guitar, lute and kanonaki provide decorous adornment to a work in which the voice is paramount. That vocal element is part orated by the soft-voiced Philip Sheffield and partly sung—singing taking the dominant part. The sections are numerous and brief. Even so there are occasions when a sense of sameness creeps into the listening experience. Also present is a feeling of dance—not a whirling feral thing but a stylised dignified elegance—something of Keats’s Grecian urn. There is rhythmic vitality here but it is not predominant. The texts—printed in full in English in the booklet—are from Orphic poems and special narrative material written by Panos Theodoridis. This is a satisfying piece providing for reflection and gentle discourse.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2009

During his years in England, as a self-imposed exile from his native Greece, Yannis Markopoulos first made his international presence felt with music for the television series, Who Pays the Ferryman?, its main theme topping UK disc charts for many months. Before arriving in London he had already enjoyed some popularity in the field of commercial music, particularly in the film industry, but on his return to his homeland he spent the 1980s turning his attention to works for the concert hall. He began work on The Liturgy of Orpheus in 1992 and completed the work two years later. It is based on the ancient Orphic poems and tells of the heartfelt aspirations of a sensitive human being. It is scored for bass-baritone, soprano, narrator, chorus and orchestra, and it is in the extensive part for the narrator that the story is related—in English—punctuating the vocal sections—in Greek. It is a melodic work redolent with folk music sounds that has risen from Markopoulos’s commercial work, and though in general style it harks back to tonal music five of six decades before, it is a very personal and easily attractive piece, the orchestral sections perfumed with colourful Greek sounds. In the leading vocal role is the famous Dutch baritone, Jose Van Dam. He is generous in his input, sounding every bit as if he came from Greece as he captures those type of sounds tourists enjoy. Philip Sheffield, better known as a singer, is the excellent narrator, and the orchestra and chorus have obviously been meticulously prepared. The recording has achieved ideal balance. I strongly recommend it.

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