LIFE

Swedish label BIS releases landmark album of works by Nikos Skalkottas

NIKOS A. DONTAS

TAGS: Music, Anniversary

Swedish record label BIS launched what has been hailed as the most systematic and serious effort to showcase the oeuvre of Greek composer Nikos Skalkottas (1904-49) on the 50th anniversary of his death.

The initiative began with a series of recordings with orchestras in Sweden and Iceland, and also with the UK’s BBC Philharmonic. These met with critical acclaim in the international press, encouraging the Swedish label to pursue the project. Over the course of the next decade, it released albums at regular intervals, working with a Greek ensemble for the first time in 2008, recording with the Thessaloniki State Symphony Orchestra. Then, in 2019, on the 70th anniversary of Skalkottas’ death, BIS turned to the Athens Philharmonia Orchestra and conductor Byron Fidetzis. The recently released album comprises previously unrecorded works as well as an especially moving piece.

Penned in 1948, Skalkottas’ Sinfonietta in B flat major is a work that deserves to be included in the repertory of Greece’s symphony orchestras, with nothing to envy from the neoclassical work or Paul Hindemith or even Dmitri Shostakovich in its ability to initiate a dialogue between folk motifs and the Central European musical idiom of the early 20th century. In June 2017 the Athens Philharmonia and Fidetzis gave us an excellent delivery of the Sinfonietta in an inferior setting; now, with the benefit of proper recording conditions and the high quality ensured by an international label, they have given us a milestone.

The short Concerto for Violin, Piano and Orchestra is of a similarly neoclassical bent, while exploring the boundaries of multifaceted atonal free-flowing writing. The intensity of the dialogue between the two solo instruments is delivered by Georgios Demertzis on violin and Vassilis Varvaresos on piano. The orchestration is by Yiannis Samprovolakis, who is also responsible for the Suite for Violin and Chamber Orchestra that follows. Only four of this piece’s five parts have been recorded, as the only surviving part of the fifth is for the violin.

Two marches and a series of nine Greek dances composed by Skalkottas for the Lyceum of Greek Women are also included on the album, which further features “Digenes in his Last Agony.” The traditional song, transcribed by Skalkottas at the request of Melpo Merlier, founder of the Folk Music Archive, features the voice of statesman Eleftherios Venizelos in this new recording.

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