English composer Lydia Kakabadse (b. 1955) is of Russian/Georgian and Greek/Austrian heritage and was raised in the Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox faith. Educated first as a double bassist (an instrument which the biography notes features in nearly all of her chamber music) and composer, she decided to support her musical activities with a career as a lawyer. Now retired from legal work, she focuses exclusively on her music.
Inspiration from the Orthodox faith tradition looms very large in these four cycles for men’s voices. The first work, Spectre of the Maiden Scorned, adds a solo mezzo-soprano and instrumental septet to the men. The other three works are for the voices alone. Kakabadse’s straightforward modal style blends influences from early music, Orthodox liturgical music, and other non-Western “world music.”
Spectre of the Maiden Scorned is a programmatic choral work based on an original story set in a monastery involving a monk who falls in love and elopes, leaving his order. He is later convinced by his former abbot to leave his wife, and she then kills herself. The texts are primarily taken from the Latin Requiem mass; the booklet includes a dramatic synopsis of the story. As a pure listening experience (without trying to map it onto the imaginary drama), the work (which feels mostly like a choral Requiem) does not really convey the story in any direct way. However, the work is an appealing concert suite and the most engaging piece on the album.
Cantica Sacra is a setting of traditional sacred texts in Latin and Greek. Kontakia sets Latin texts from the Bible connected to the season of Lent. Theotokia consists of five settings of well-known Marian texts. There is not a great deal of variety across these three works, and listening to them all in sequence does not show them to their advantage. With minimal pause, one movement flows into the next, and they are all entirely within a “neo-Orthodox” mood and sound world. Fans of Alan Hovhaness and other composers (such as John Tavener or Patricia Van Ness) whose work draws from a similar pool of influences will find these pieces very comfortable. Those interested in traditional Orthodox liturgical music will also likely enjoy Kakabadse’s approach to choral writing, as the modal and mood consistency is a feature of that repertoire. There is less here for those listeners who prefer a more dynamic contemporary choral experience. The principal ensemble is a male sextet of alumni from the Clare College Choir, directed by Graham Ross. These composer-supervised performances present the music compellingly. A very enjoyable 2011 disc of Kakabadse’s characterful chamber and vocal music (which displays much greater variety) is available on Naxos, and forthcoming next year will be another album of her chamber work.
Carson Cooman (Fanfare Sep / Oct 2016)