Manolis Kalomiris: Rhapsodies, Lyrics, Minas The Rebel / Byron Fidetzis

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KALOMIRIS Rhapsody No. 1 1. Rhapsody No. 2, “Song to the Night 1.” Lyrics 2,3. In St Luke’s Monastery 1,4. Minas the Rebel, Corsair of...

KALOMIRIS Rhapsody No. 1 1. Rhapsody No. 2, “Song to the Night 1.” Lyrics 2,3. In St Luke’s Monastery 1,4. Minas the Rebel, Corsair of the Aegean. 1 The Death of the Valiant Woman 1 Byron Fidetzis, cond; 1 Russian St S Capella; 2 Karlovy Vary SO; 3 Julia Souglakou (sop); 4 Eva Kotamanidou (nar) NAXOS 8.572451 (76:38 & available at

Manolis Kalomiris (1883–1962) was born in Smyrna (now Izmir on the western coast of Turkey), and received his early education in Constantinople (I have used the pre-Ottoman name of that city in deference to Kalomiris’s Greek heritage). His musical education was largely accomplished in Vienna, where he studied both piano and composition. After graduation he spent several years as a piano teacher in Karkov, Ukraine, where he absorbed the music of the great Russian nationalist composers and, upon finally settling in Athens, vowed to create a similarly inspired Greek national school of music based on his culture’s indigenous music, literature, and myths, and enhanced by the more modern compositional trends and techniques of his time. Toward that end he founded the Hellenic Conservatory in 1919, and, in 1926, the National Conservatory.

The first work on this release, the Rhapsody No. 1, was composed in 1921, and is certainly Greek in flavor. Long-limbed, melismatic melodies underpinned by metrically uneven time signatures impart an aura of Eastern exoticism. There is, however, an odd but effective convergence of both means and styles. The piece, as with everything else on this release, is leavened with, to a greater or lesser extent, an illuminating French twist. Originally written for piano solo and replete with some quite Francophile harmonies, it was later orchestrated and conducted by Gabriel Pierné, which is the version given here. Hearing Kalomiris’s harmonizations, it is clear as to why Pierné was so enamored of this piece, and strove to popularize it.

Rhapsody No. 2, “Song of the Night,” also composed in 1921, was likewise conceived for piano solo, and documents a greater depth and sophistication in Kalomiris’s language than found in the First Rhapsody. The subsequent and equally brilliant orchestration heard here was done by this release’s conductor, Byron Fidetzis, in 1987–88.

Lyrics (text by Angelos Sikelianos), also known as Songs of Sikelianos , takes one, given the sounds and inflexions of the Greek language, farther into Kalomiris’s core than the two rhapsodies. Lyrics was premiered in Athens in 1937. Designed for soprano and orchestra, it is scored more lightly and transparently than the two rhapsodies. Sikelianos’s texts are vividly and often pungently realized by Kalomiris. Here, as in all effective musical settings of poetry from Schubert forward, one has difficulty determining exactly where the word ends and the music begins, and vice-versa. Soprano Julia Souglakou manages the often large intervallic leaps with great aplomb, and also supplies ravishing mezzo-voce singing where needed. The same year, 1937, also saw the first performance of In Saint Luke’s Monastery for narrator and orchestra. In this melodrama (not a pejorative) for female narrator and orchestra, the Greek language further defines and elucidates Kalomiris’s music much as Bartók’s Hungarian and Sibelius’s Finnish underpin theirs.

The remaining pieces— Minna the Rebel and The Death of the Valiant Woman —were composed in 1940 and 1945, respectively, and are, given their underlying programs, Greek to the core. Here Kalomiris’s musical language is more pithy and direct than in the earliest pieces on this release. In them pastels give way to stark primary colors and their underlying narratives are writ large.

The works have been arranged in roughly chronological order and show a progression in the language of a worthy composer who at first felt that he had to play a game of catch-up in order to become valid, who assimilated as many of the “legitimate” trends of his time, and who finally found his own voice.

These performances by the Russian State Symphonic Capella and the Karlovy Vary Symphony Orchestra are technically faultless by current world standards. Their ability to project the essences of this music can be laid at the feet of their Greek-born conductor, Byron Fidetzis, who turns in a truly masterly job and delivers performances that are equally full of expertise, verve, and passion.

The sound, like the performances, is well up to current standards.

FANFARE: William Zagorski

Product Description:

  • Release Date: November 16, 2010

  • UPC: 747313245178

  • Catalog Number: 8572451

  • Label: Naxos

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: Manolis Kalomiris

  • Conductor: Byron Fidetzis

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Karlovy Vary Symphony Orchestra, Russian State Symphonic Cappella

  • Performer: Eva Kotamanidou, Julia Souglakou