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William Zagorski
Fanfare, November 2011

These performances by the Russian State Symphonic Capella and the Karlovy Vary Symphony Orchestra are technically faultless by current world standards. Their ability to project the essences of this music can be laid at the feet of their Greek-born conductor, Byron Fidetzis, who turns in a truly masterly job and delivers performances that are equally full of expertise, verve, and passion.

The sound, like the performances, is well up to current standards.

Gary Higginson
MusicWeb International, March 2011

It’s entirely possible that anyone reading this will already know something about the rather stuttering Greek Classics series from Naxos. They may even possess the earlier Kalomiris disc. I reviewed that earlier disc (Naxos 8.557970) which includes the rather pompous Third Symphony. It’s good though to welcome a second volume and to expand our limited knowledge. It would have been interesting to have one of the other symphonies available. Again we are led through the music by Byron Fidetzis but this time with differing orchestras. The first volume was with the Athens State Orchestra and was recorded in 2005. This one is with two sometimes rather dodgy Russian orchestras. It was recorded rather a while ago and was originally to be found on the Greek Phormigx label.

The disc opens with Rhapsody No. 1 , originally written for piano and published in 1925. It already has, in some of its misty harmonies, various French influences in evidence but the orchestration by Gabriel Pierné enhances the effect and was done out of admiration and friendship for the composer. It grows to a fine climax but even in its brevity, has that characteristic bombast which some might find annoying. Also the fact that the trumpets in the forte section are slightly out of tune is rather too striking.

However one cannot but be very impressed with Byron Fidetzis’s orchestration of the Rhapsody No. 2 . According to the wonderfully detailed and well-considered booklet notes by Filippos Tsalahouris, Fidetzis considers this to be Kalomiris’s best piano work and I can quite believe it. Learning from the Pierné and from Kalomiris’s own colourful orchestrations from the 1920s Fidetzis has given the work a French sheen and polish. This is appropriate as the piano version was first published in Paris. The opening ‘noises’ are wonderfully conceived and I would love to know exactly what Kalomiris wrote. After about ten minutes the piece reaches a climax of noble and almost biblical proportions then dies back to how it started. The recording is quite close but seems to bring out the best of the orchestration if not of the orchestra.

To quote Patrick Leigh Fermor in his ‘Mani’ (John Murray 1958 page 53) “All Greece abounds in popular poetry. It is always sung and…many of them accompany Greek dancing.” If you know the country and the islands then you know that this is still the case.

This well annotated CD also has a useful, separate essay about the two other works.

The Death of the Valiant Woman was said by the composer to be in ‘ballet form’. Indeed it did reach the stage in 1945. Its dedication to Simone Seaille, a close family friend, is because she was a resistance fighter for the French who was executed by the Nazis. I commented in my earlier review that it has been said of Kalomiris that his music is “bombastic and lacking in taste”, but you have to put yourself into the mind-set of a Greek patriot during the war who had always possessed socialistic leanings. To disguise his dread and anger at the death of a young nationalist dying for her cause Kalomiris set the scenario in ancient Greece in a story of courageous Greek women who fought alongside their men. Kalomiris uses throughout a celebrated folk tune a dance entitled Zaloggo, a melody in 7/8 time also used by Skalkottas and Hadjinikos. It is also the name of a Greek monument dedicated to freedom. This epic work begins with uncertainty and sadness but triumph brings the CD to a suitably partisan end.

The other work, which immediately precedes it, is the longest on the disc, Minas the Rebel . This is ‘true story’ music, based on a novel by Kostis Bastias. As can be heard right from the start this work seems really to have captured the composer’s romantic imagination. It concerns a young man who sails the Aegean, marries, has a child, watches them die, loses his religious faith and on being suddenly made blind, suddenly finds it again. He ends his days peacefully as a monk, inducing an especially long and tranquil coda. The music ends quite unexpectedly. So from its wild and passionate beginning there comes a glowing insight into a world of spiritual fulfilment. The performance by the Russian State Capella is quite satisfactory and the recording much more so than other works on this rather mixed blessing of a CD.

Lyrics is to words by Angelos Sikelianos (1884–1951). …Kalomiris was…quite lavish and at times passionate. Julia Souglakou tackles it ‘womanfully’ but is battling against an often poor balance, a sometimes exotic and overly busy orchestration and an under-rehearsed Karlovy Vary orchestra. Nevertheless, despite the numerous passages when I wondered if the composer had instructed the singer to go for ‘can belto’, the piece has many attractions, not least the most Greek-sounding (I can’t say why) of the three sections: the last called The First Rain. The other two are shorter and are entitled Aphrodite Rising and The Holy Virgin of Sparta.

So, a mixed blessing then but there are certainly three works here that I shall return to. Anyway the CD opens a fascinating door onto Greek nationalist music, which outside Greece, listeners hardly ever have an opportunity to scrutinise.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, November 2010

Manolis Kalomiris is regarded by many as the father of Greek music expressed in classical terms. He was born in 1883 and lived through the Second Viennese School without becoming influenced by any of its elements. It is said that he leaned towards the French school of the early 20th century, and  it was Gabriel Pierne who offered to orchestrate the first of two piano Rhapsodies, with the present conductor, Byron Fidetzis, undertaking the same task with the Second. Written in 1921, they both are in the mainstream of tonal music of the era, and maybe it is the sound of the Russian orchestra that takes away Pierne’s French tonal qualities, both scores sounding distinctly East European, though enjoyable as viewed from that perspective. We move a little nearer France for the three Lyrics recorded by the Czech orchestra from Karlovy Vary. At times they call for the operatic quality of the Greek soprano, Julia Souglakou. Three symphonic poems complete the disc, all are dramatic in content, In St Lukes Monastery dating from 1937 and calls for a narrator, here very atmospherically taken by Eva Kotamanidou. That Kalomiris is a capable orchestrator is proven as we pass through two scores from the 1940’s, The Death of the Valiant Woman, reminding us of links with the Orient. They do not offer any major challenges, and many of the woodwind solos are of beautiful quality. All recordings date from the first half of the 1990s, the Russian section of the disc having been previously available on Phormigx.

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