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Skalkottas, Nikos: 16 Melodies; 15 Little Variati


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Product Details

  • Audio CD (Aug. 1 2004)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: BIS
  • ASIN: B00030ERCE
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #309,746 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
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Amazon.com: HASH(0xa40187bc) out of 5 stars 1 review
HASH(0xa3b229f0) out of 5 stars Very good recording of Skalkottas' "16 Melodies", plus several short piano works Dec 14 2015
By G.C. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
The BIS series of recordings of the music of Nikos Skalkottas has been a very enterprising set of albums, and this album is very much in keeping with that ethos. In fact, the enterprise shows more strongly in this album, because 4 of the 5 works on this album receive first recordings, from manuscripts in the Skalkottas Archive.

The album gets off to a big start with the 16 Melodies from 1941, for mezzo-soprano and piano, a collection of art songs that lasts a bit over 42 minutes. The texts are by Hrissos Esperas (a.k.a. Hrissos Evelpidis), from a novel that he wrote in his youth (title not given in the notes). He eventually became Finance Minister of Greece. The 16 Melodies do not tell a particular narrative, in the way of the big 3 Franz Schubert song cycles, but are more a compendium like Mahler's "Des Knaben Wunderhorn", albeit without such a descriptive overall title. If these songs have any sort of overarching theme, it would be the general themes of nature and man (the liner notes by Christophe Sirodeau say "man and nature", but IMHO, the emphasis is the other way around). The overall harmonic language of the songs is strongly chromatic, no surprise since Skalkottas studied with Arnold Schoenberg. Yet to these ears, these songs are never "atonal" or 12-tone like in style, although Sirodeau points out that the vocal line and the piano line do not necessarily run in direct parallel, a characteristic of the vocal writing of the Second Viennese School, in his evaluation. There is a constant energetic feel to them, and also some moments of neo-tonality. Although perhaps lacking in obvious "big tunes", the music is strongly constructed and suits the mezzo-soprano voice well. This is a work definitely worth reviving and hearing on record.

The one work on the album that had been published is the 15 Little Variations for Piano from 1927. It's a quirky work, where it might admittedly be tricky to follow the "theme". But it is also diverting and engaging. A similarly quirky spirit is present in the Sonatina for Piano, also from 1927, which is in 3 movements. The 1st movement is basically an introduction, lasting 48 seconds, to the Siciliano second movement, the longest of the movements. Sirodeau points out an allusion in the final movement to the "Suite 1922" of Paul Hindemith. By contrast with the two 1927 piano works, the last two short piano pieces, "Echo" (1946) and "Berceuse" (1941) are in a completely "standard, traditional" style of tonality, very audience-friendly but without being pandering. Either would make a nice encore at a piano recital.

Quite understandably, the featured artists are Greek, where Angelica Cathariou does a very nice job in the 16 Melodies, and pianist Nikolaos Samaltanos likewise does solid work in both the 16 Melodies and the solo piano works. I also should put in a good word for the translations of the Esperas texts by Angie Athanassiades, a poet "of Irish extraction", as the liner notes put it, which also use the phrase "English adaptation" rather than "translation". While I certainly do not read Greek and have no grasp of the language at all, the English "adaptations" read very nicely indeed. I wonder perhaps of Athanassiades utilized some artistic freedom to render her versions not too slavishly literally to the original Greek text.

The one minor quibble is that the running time is just under 60 minutes, a bit short perhaps in the age of the CD. However, given the enterprising programming here, this album warrants 5 stars. For those interested in Skalkottas and/or those following this BIS collection, you need not hesitate.


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