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Nikos Skalkottas: The Sea
Dimitri Mitropoulos, Nikos Skalkottas, Byron Fidetzis
Nikos Skalkottas: The Sea
Genres: Dance & Electronic, Classical
  •  Track Listings (17) - Disc #1


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CD Details

All Artists: Dimitri Mitropoulos, Nikos Skalkottas, Byron Fidetzis, Iceland Symphony Orchestra
Title: Nikos Skalkottas: The Sea
Members Wishing: 0
Total Copies: 0
Label: Bis
Original Release Date: 1/1/2006
Re-Release Date: 2/28/2006
Album Type: Import
Genres: Dance & Electronic, Classical
Styles: Ballets & Dances, Dances, Symphonies
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaCD Credits: 1
UPCs: 675754890025, 7318590013847

CD Reviews

Highest recommendation for the music of this Greek composer
Russ | Richmond, VA | 07/08/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I can not recommend this CD highly enough! This music is the most exciting, approachable music I have come across in the past year.

Nikos Skalkottas (1904-1949) was educated in the twelve-tone compositional technique by Schoenberg, and was considered one of his most promising students (hold on - don't stop reading yet). Several of his works are definitely hardcore serial music (ex: Piano Concerto No. 1, also recorded on BIS). Yet, upon returning to his native Greece in the early 1930's he moved away from such devices and began to compose in a Greek nationalistic style. I would describe his music from this later period as colorful, lively and vibrant. Much of his music contains rhythms and meter that is specific to Greek folk music. Although Skalkottas' music is very distinctive, I suppose you can say there are similarities with some of the compositions of Sibelius, Dvorak, Bartok, Enescu (think Romanian Rhapsody No. 1) and Khachaturian (think Spartacus).

The music on this CD comes from Skalkottas' later period.

The Sea is an eleven movement ballet suite completed in 1949. Lasting 45 minutes it is a substantial work. The movements either relate to nature (waves, fish, dolphins) or some story about a mermaid. Of course you don't need to know any of this, as the music is fantastic. The slow movements are haunting and lovely, while the quicker movements really are exciting. There is a lot of dance material here, with musical representations of waves and storms.

The Four Images is a collection four dances, and is heavily influenced by Greek folk material. The final two movements of this work ("The Vintage" and "The Grape Stomping") are especially raucous. The composer indicated he wanted to represent "inebriation, merry celebration, the country people pressing the grapes - like an escalating dance." Great stuff!

The Cretan Feast was composed by Dimitris Mitropoulos, another important figure on the music scene in Greece. This work was orchestrated by Skalkottas early in his career, and is festive in character. The final piece on this CD is a Greek Dance (not to be confused with any of the previously recorded 36 Greek Dances). Written in a fast-slow-fast format, it will immediately appeal to anyone who even has the slightest interest in, say, the Slavonic Dances of Dvorak, or in my case, especially cool French horn parts.

Although it seems like an odd combination, the playing by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra is outstanding - and this music isn't easy. The recorded sound by BIS, as usual, is great.

In summary, this is required for anyone interested in tuneful twentieth century music. You will not be disappointed.

Once you get this, be sure to also pick up the Nikos Skalkottas: 36 Greek Dances; The Return of Ulysses, also on BIS.

The revival of a forgotten genius
Amadeus 888 | London | 06/07/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I'm grateful to BIS for this recording. Considering that Skalkottas was and still is considered by many one of the most important composers of the 20th century, it is very sad indeed that his work has been largely forgotten until recently.

What is most striking about the music on this disc and about the music of Skalkottas in general is its striking originality. A pupil of Arnold Schoenberg, Skalkottas embraced twelve-tone and atonal methods, but never abandonned the tradition altogether. In fact, I suspect what makes him such a prolific, versatile and original composer is the fact that inspiration seemed to flow to him from all directions and he could handle twelve-tone, atonal, tonal and elements from Greek folk music with amazing ease. I'm not sure that we could say that the avant-garde informed his tonal works, but it certainly seems that they fed off each other.

The most important work on this CD is the Sea, a tonal work of amazing beauty and originality. It draws largely on Greek folk tradition and legends, for example the tale of the mermaid and Alexander the Great. Apparently, according to the legend, the sister of Alexander the Great was a mermaid. Desperate about her brothers whereabouts, she used to ask the sailors if her brother was still alive. If they replied truthfully, alas she would sink the boat! Just listen to the preparation and the dance of the mermaid to see what I mean. But if the sailors were clever enough, they would reply ""He lives and reigns, and conquers the world!" and she would let them live.

The music of Skalkottas captures the spirit of the Sea in its never-ending variations. It is at the same time lyrical and epic, sad and joyful, powerful, stormy, furious, dreamy and elusive.

The Iceland Symphony Orchestra is very good and so is the conductor, Byron Fidetzis. The only thing that I found quite irritating and incomprehensible is the liner notes by Byron Fidetzis. He seems obsessed with comparing Skalkottas and his music to his peers and other European composers of that age.

Other than that, highly recommended.
A Modern Greek Masterpiece
M. D. Stratis | New York City, NY | 12/23/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Upon hearing Skalkottas' The Sea it seemed as if I had entered into the uncharted waters of a musical world that doesn't appear on any map in the classical repertoire. Superbly composed in years deemed quite difficult for the composer, Skalkottas' ballet captured the changing moods of the Aegean - from placid emerald and azure Argonautic waves to frothy, churning whirlpools of Homeric energy - and the tales of the simple and the mighty people that live around its shoreline. The day to day adventures of the common Greek fisherman seem pleasant, even fleeting, before the majestic rush of the Mermaid - Alexander the Great's mythological half-sister who stops every vessel and demands an answer to her question "Does Alexander live?" only to wreak havoc on those who honestly report his death. The music shatters the limits of conventional wisdom - the CW that portrays Greek music as synonymous with bouzouki and Middle Eastern melodies - and sets a new musical standard for the classical enthusiast. Gone are the days when European music is dominated by the heavy guns - Germany, Italy, France, Russia. Skalkottas speaks to us as a veteran of the atonal school who stumbled into neo-Romantic tonalism in his last years before his tragic death in 1949. The Sea seems to compel us at a level reminiscent of Debussy's La Mer. The rich rhythms and powerful use of Greek modes dominates the work.

A great impression has also been left with the Four Images - pieces that evoke the life of the Greek peasant throughout the sowing and harvest seasons. The frenetic beat of the Grape Stomping is particularly magical, sufficient to lift anyone from his seat and into a makeshift dance pattern. Enesco, Kodaly, Brahms and Dvorak would be quite taken with the sounds of their Greek colleague. I have played the pieces over and over again in my car stereo system to the surprise of my family and the curious street pedestrian. What astounds me is the complete ignorance or disregard of the mainstream radio programs - esteemed classical music programs like WQXR in New York City - even after several emails and letters which made every effort to [re]introduce Skalkottas' music in the last few years. While maestro Fidetzis does great work for Greek classical music, few in the Western media seem to notice. Would one be amiss to assume a certain bias against this type of music or this part of the world? I would hope so.

Kudos to maestro Fidetzis and the Iceland State Orchestra for their glorious recording of Skalkottas' works. The Greek Dance is a stunning gem of a work, complete with the distant sound of a church belltower in a classic Greek landscape, probably perched on some mountain ridge, echoing around a graceful dance of the Byzantine centuries. The work is recast as a thoroughly boisterous surge of cymbals and drums, very much set in the foothills of a region inhabited by rebellious warriors and their kin. All in all, Skalkottas has composed a Delacroix tableau set to Greek folk themes.

Mitropoulos' Cretan Feast - transcribed for orchestra by Skalkottas - is a finale worth the wait. Mitropoulos' fiery passages capture the spirit of the freedom-loving Cretan, and Skalkottas maximizes the sound to a new level of intensity. Swift and with undying vigour, Cretan Feast is sumptuous in its exposition and filling with its final course.

This CD is a must for those seeking new inspiration from masters ignored by the passage of time. Skalkottas is a ray of hope in a world losing itself in the abstractions of the modern art movement and the avant garde. Let us hope that more recordings such as this will become accessible to a greater audience. Perhaps the time has come for a change."