Theodorakis: Erofili; Passacailles for Two Pianos; Les Eluard*; Christou: Six TS Eliot Songs*; Prelude and Fugue
*Angelica Cathariou (mezzo-soprano), Nikolaus Samaltanos, Christophe Sirodeau (piano)
Melism MLSCD026 61:86 mins
This recording is a surprise. The name Mikis Theodorakis (b1925) conjures up just one thing in most British minds: the score for Zorba the Greek, the film which put Greece on the map for party-goers when it was released in 1964. But this composer and lyricist – and life-long peace campaigner, who has been tortured for his beliefs – is enormously prolific, with more than a thousand works to his name. And behind the crowd-pleasing façade lies something you might not expect: his origins as a modernist composer, who studied reverentially under Olivier Messiaen.
And that’s what is reflected on this recording, which he shares with the late composer Jani Christou (1926-70): this disc reveals a largely unknown aspect of Greek musical culture in the second half of the 20th century. Played on two pianos by Nikolaos Samaltanos and Christophe Sirodeau, the pieces in Theodorakis’s Passacailles show the influence by turns of Musorgsky, Debussy and Stravinsky, but they remain their vivid selves: Theodorakis’s imagination is infectiously exuberant and exploratory. And his settings of poems by Paul Eluard in Les Eluard – hymns to the beauty of his Russian wife Elena, who would later desert him to marry Salvador Dali – have explosive power.
Christou began his career as a philosopher, studying under Ludwig Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell, and as a composer he was a modernist through and through. His Eliot Songs, delivered by mezzo-soprano Angelica Cathariou in a suitable kaleidoscope of styles, nicely reflect the atmosphere of the poems; their sonorities hint at the electronic music which Christou would go on to compose.