Skalkottas: Quartet No. 1 for Piano & Wind; Quartet No. 2 for Piano & Wind;Concertinos for Oboe & Piano; Concertinos for Trumpet & Piano

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COMPOSERS: Skalkottas
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Quartet No. 1 for Piano & Wind; Quartet No. 2 for Piano & Wind;Concertinos for Oboe & Piano; Concertinos for Trumpet & Piano
PERFORMER: Håkan Hardenberger (trumpet), Heinz Holliger (oboe), Klaus Thunemann (bassoon), Bruno Canino (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 442 795-2 DDD
Nikos Skalkottas is one of those hard-to-pin-down figures that 20th-century music has made into a speciality. Born on the Greek island of Euboea in 1904, he was a pupil of Schoenberg in Berlin in the late Twenties, before he was forced to leave Germany when the Nazis came to power. He returned to Greece and spent the rest of his life isolated from the musical world, composing prodigiously. He died in 1949.

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The wealth of music he wrote in his last decade has only gradually been unearthed since. The late Hans Keller was a vociferous champion of Skalkottas’s achievement, but it’s been hard to assess those claims: much of his music has remained unpublished, performances of what are often fiendishly difficult works are rare and recordings of them rarer still. The collection on this disc was in fact conceived as a cycle by Skalkottas, who in the early Forties framed the three works for solo wind and piano with the two quartets for oboe, bassoon and trumpet with piano. It makes a satisfying, neatly shaped sequence: Skalkottas’s technique is formidable, his understanding of instrumental capabilities outstandingly perceptive and the performances, it almost goes without saying with this line-up, are first-class. But the music itself is harder to get excited about; the style is more neo-classical than Schoenbergian, not unlike rather strenuous Poulenc, though without the French composer’s wit, charm and harmonic piquancy. Andrew Clements