BY DIONYSIS MALLOUCHOS
Iannis Xenakis, ZYIA – SIX CHANSONS GRECQUES – PSAPPHA – PERSEPHASSA (SAPHIR productions, 2011 / LVC 1168)
Dimitris Mitropoulos, O protoporiakos synthetis (The pioneer artist), ed. Thimeli, Department of Music Studies, (Hellenic Music Research Lab), Ionian University, Gennadius Library, AEPI 86501.
Mezzo-soprano Angelica Kathariou, scholar and member of the BoD of the Scholars’ Association since 2011, participates in two recent recordings of the works of two of the most globally renowned Greeks in the world of Art: composer Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001), and Dimitris Mitropoulos (1896-1960), who, even though he is better known as a conductor, is also an exquisite composer which adds significantly to this recording.
In this first recording, produced in France (SAPHIR productions), Angelica Kathariou participates in “Zyia” which is presented here for mezzo-soprano, flute and piano. Xenakis composed this work in 1952, a time when he mainly drew on tradition and wrote a small number of works which he then disavowed from a composition standpoint. His close music associate and flute player, Cécile Daroux, persuaded him – much later (in 1994) – to release the version for soprano, male choir, flute and piano. In July 2010, the great French flute player arranges and makes this first international recording for mezzo soprano. A few months later, though, she passes away unexpectedly (in January 2011), before the recording is released. The rest of the team dedicated it to her memory. If you want to see the lyrics that Xenakis himself wrote for “Zyia”, take a look at the French section in the CD insert because one verse has been mistakenly omitted in the English text.
Participating in the production are two more renowned Greek musicians who have successfully been performing in France for years: pianist Dimitris Vasilakis, who is one of the three members of the recording team for “Zyia”, and pianist Nikos Samaltanos, who interprets the 6 Greek Songs for piano, one more – in many ways interesting – work of Iannis Xenakis’ early creative period (1951). It must be noted that Angelica Kathariou and Nikos Samaltanos have collaborated in the past (in 2004) in another very successful international production by BIS when they released a recording of all 16 tracks of another internationally renowned Greek composer, Nikos Skalkotas. It was the first time that all these works had featured on one CD. The new recording of Iannis Xenakis’ works includes two more pieces for percussion instruments interpreted by Daniel Ciampolini in their electroacoustic version: “Psappha” (in the Aeolic dialect) and “Persephassa” (in Persephone by Aeschylus).
The mere inclusion of four works by such a celebrated composer as Iannis Xenakis, in their original versions for the first time on an international recording is indeed of major international significance and scope. The skilful reading of such challenging works and the high level of artistic style and interpretation by the recording team do indeed guarantee a pleasant and rewarding hearing.
The second recording this article mentioned is from the Hellenic Music Research Lab of the Department of Music Studies at Ionian University. Three works for voice and piano by the acclaimed composer and conductor, Dimitris Mitropoulos, are recorded by two of the Foundation’s scholars, mezzo-soprano Angelica Kathariou and pianist Thodoris Tzovanakis. Released for the first time are: “Aphrodite Urania” (1924), “Pan” (1924), both based on poems by Aggelos Sikelianos, and “14 Invenzioni” (1925) based on poems by C. Kavafy. Three more works for solo piano are also included: “Passacaglia, Intermezzo e Fuga” (1924), for piano (untitled) (1926) and “Tesseris Kythiraiki Chori” (Four Cytherean Dances) (1926).
All were composed by Dimitris Mitropoulos immediately after he returned to Greece from Berlin where he had worked for three years as a piano accompanist and assistant conductor while attending a post-graduate composition course by Ferruccio Busoni. As Haris Xanthoudakis, composer and professor at the Ionian University, Department of Music Studies - he has also studied Mitropoulos' compositions and has written books and articles on the subject - states in the CD insert, Mitropoulos gave in 1924 his first clearly atonal works, starting with “Passacaglia” and then setting Sikelianos’ texts and Cavafy’s love poems to music. His untitled piece for piano (probably in 1926) is written in eight-tone scale, whilst neoclassical influences (Stravinsky and Bartók) are obvious in his work “Kythiraiki Chori” (Four Cytherean Dances).
Angelica Kathariou and Thodoris Tzovanakis (who has also delved into Mitropoulos’ music at an academic level) have coexisted in the past in many concerts conducted by Mitropoulos, so this recording does not come as a surprise. The challenges of their successful venture are nevertheless notable; not only did they satisfactorily meet all demands in terms of skill, which both musicians have mastered long ago, but also in terms of the ability to update a past musical language to the present.
Explicit and expressive, Angelica Kathariou is able to draw on her extensive creative experience in modern music to elevate in a magnificent way the expressionist feeling every time the score demands it. Thodoris Tzovanakis, having managed to decode the extremely complex musical pieces and having in-depth knowledge of Mitropoulos’ compositional tools, outlines every work with disarming lucidity and encouraged the listener to take an undeniably difficult journey in terms of music style that makes great turns in dynamics, fluctuations in the density of the material, requires impressive artistic skills, bold sound and a clear direction of musical expression.
The recording is undoubtedly a fortuitous collaboration and an invaluable international contribution. It reveals new dimensions of the grandeur of a seminal Greek musician, Dimitris Mitropoulos.