Skalkottas: 32 Piano Pieces; 4 Études; Suite No. 1

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COMPOSERS: Skalkottas
WORKS: 32 Piano Pieces; 4 Études; Suite No. 1
PERFORMER: Nikolaos Samaltanos (piano)
The 32 Piano Pieces show off the many facets of Skalkottas, with character pieces, neo-classical and jazz-influenced dance movements, and short studies in various formal styles (canon, sonatina, rondo and so on). Skalkottas said that he was instigating a new technique of piano-playing – I wouldn’t go as far as that (there are echoes of Busoni, Schoenberg, Weill and Hindemith among others) but the cycle is certainly an enormous test of stamina, and, at its rare performances, it’s usually been split over two evenings. Samaltanos recorded it over two years, and this shows in an inconsistency of recording perspective, and a slight lack of continuity: there’s a tendency for some of the pieces to start from standing, rather than be carried along by what comes before and after. Some of the ‘Short Variations on a Mountain Theme’, for instance, need to share more of the character of the preceding ‘Children’s Dance’, and the Tango should move smoothly into the Passacaglia: in a live performance this would happen naturally. But otherwise Samaltanos is musically expressive and technically impressive, not only here but in the Suite and the Studies: overshadowed by the huge canvas of the 32 Pieces in this context, but extremely welcome nevertheless. Martin Cotton