About BIS 1564 - [...] The Concerto for Two Violins
"will leave listeners in a contagion of good mood",
says Christopher Sirodeau. That sums up my feeling too, and about
this whole CD, 80 minutes of close packed music by a composer
who tends towards the succinct. A great deal of music, often
fast and breathless, may be concentrated into a few minutes,
as with several of the works given here.The unique concerto for
two violins and piano duet (one piano) makes this an imperative
must-buy release. [...]
Sirodeau explains why this major work has remained
as 'monochrome photo' but is all the better for that; the richly
coloured violin parts and ideas bubbling out with such prolixity
make thought of any limitations soon to be forgotten. I would
endorse this and go further; balance problems vanish and the
piano score is so exciting in its own right that younger professional
duettists should be badgering the best violinists around to join
them to perform the concerto everywhere [...] It is enormously
invigorating and hear-lifting music, by a composer who brought
Mediterranean warmth into rigorous and complex serial procedures
of his own.
The chamber music with wind makes a delightful sequence
of varied music, showing that Skalkottas had a rare flair for
displaying instruments at their best. Eric Aubier's trumpet is
tamed for a domestic environment; Alexeï Ogrintchouk's oboe
is suave and mellow, and bassoonist Marc Trenel has a substantial
22 mins work that confirms how few chamber works for their instruments
can compete with those of Skalkottas.
About BIS 1244 [...] The group of piano pieces, mostly
early ones, include the delicious and marvellously concise Little
Variations, which I thought I'd mastered at the keyboard until
I heard how swiftly Nikolaos Samaltanos despatches the faster
ones. There are also two short pieces which show that Skalkottas
(like Schönberg) was perfectly capable of writing listener-friendly
tonal music for Greek audiences who hadn't caught up with modernism.
The 16 songs [...] form an important facet of Skalkottas's
oeuvre and are put across convincingly by Angelica Cathariou
and the ever-astonishing Nikolaos Samaltanos. Presentation is
fine, with Greek originals and parallel English translations.
© Peter Grahame Woolf / Classical.Net
[...] I realize even more than I did in the 1980s
that Skalkottas is no forgotten second-rater (a curious cross
between Schoenberg - his teacher- and a Greek folk song collector)
but a prolific genius whose music grows in stature the more you
get to know it. I feel that I could write reams about him, but,
you will be glad to hear,
I will restrict myself to this new release. The disc appears
to be the brain-child of the Greek pianist Nikolaos Samaltanos
who plays throughout [while Christophe Sirodeau] wrote the extensive
booklet notes. The series has been marked by some outstanding
if arguably, overly detailed booklet notes.
It begins with the thirty-five minute 'Concerto for
two Violins', which was never orchestrated, sadly, by Skalkottas,
but is played in the version for two pianos and two violins.
It is a scintillating three movement composition with a terrifically
virtuosic ten minute rondo finale. I ended up breathless and
full of admiration for the composer and especially the performers
for whom this music cannot have been familiar. It doesn't take
long to get into Skalkottas's language. Twelve tone yes but melodic
and full of Greek dance rhythms as the first movement demonstrates.
A unique blend.
[...] Generally speaking the tempi on the Bis recording
are faster than on the Philips. I can only say that if they had
not been the music would not have fitted onto one CD. Seventy-nine
minutes and a bit is about as generous as a disc can be. These
livelier tempi are generally right except with the 'Oboe Concertino'
where for once Heinz Holliger is not relaxed enough and fails
to enjoy the beauty of the line. On the new disc Alexei Ogrintochouk
revels in the melody and draws from it more than I realized was
there. Quite moving. The 'Trumpet Concertino' goes at quite a
lick in the hands of Aubier who knocks one minute off Hardenberger
without any loss of detail.
The Bis recording is warmer and welcomes the listener
into its ambience. The Philips is perfectly reasonable but fails
to balance the winds against the piano quite as convincingly
in the two quartets. To listen to Skalkottas is a unique experience
perhaps a little hairshirt at times but like a glass of Retsina
there is nothing else quite as memorable or as addictive.
Gary Higginson / MusicWeb
An admirable series reaches a high-point with a
late, great concerto
BISs exploration of the music of Nikos Skalkottas has yielded
nothing more fascinating than the Concerto for Two Violins, completed
in 1945 but unorchestrated at his death four years later. In
an perceptive booklet note, Christophe Sirodeau speculates that
Skalkottas was attempting something different from his large-scale
works and, compared to the multi-layered textures of The
Return of Ulysses (8/03) and Largo Sinfonico (6/98), its clear-cut
formal divisions and Classical momentum do suggest a redefining,
though not a simplification, of expressive means. Indeed, its
emotional breadth makes it an unmistakable product of the composers
Despite its Allegro giocoso marking, the first movement is among
Skalkottass most bracing sonata structures, with a development-cum-accompanied
cadenza of real intensity. The Andante consists of five variations
on a Rembetiko a melodic fusion of Greek folk
and popular music treated with rare fantasy and eloquence
(even in piano score, the tutti writing is alive with imaginative
orchestral touches). The energetic rondo finale is
not without humour, and its central cadenza draws together thematic
elements in a maelstrom of activity, making demands which soloists
Eiichi Chijiiwa and Nina Zymbalist meet head on. The elaborate,
contrapuntal piano writing is dispatched with equal panache by
Sirodeau and Nikolaos Samaltanos (their recording of the two-piano
transcription of Ulysses on Agora is worth seeking out), so that,
even were the orchestral part to be realised musicologist
Kostas Demertzis has apparently attempted such the overall
musical impact would probably not be that much greater.
The remainder of the disc consists of the so-called
(though not by the composer) Concert Cycle, five
pieces written during 1939-43 and forming a diverting sequence
suitable as the second half of a concert. As it happens, this
is the only Skalkottas work to have enjoyed a really first-rate
recording before (Heinz Holliger et al on Philips, 10/95
nla); the new accounts, though yielding marginally in sheer technical
consistency, have greater character and interpretative finesse.
Alexeï Ogrintchouk is elegantly plangent, and Eric Aubier
pungently athletic in the Oboe and Trumpet Concertinos respectively,
while Marc Trenel finds pathos and quirky charm amid the relative
expanse of the Sonata Concertante. Two brief quartets frame the
cycle with a jazzy nonchalance as unexpected as it is appealing.
Commendably natural BIS sound, and a significant release.
Richard Whitehouse / Gramophone
More reviews to be added soon