A previous release of music by the UK composer Lydia Kakabadse on this label was very impressive; this present release offers further thoughtful, imaginative music.
The Hellenic Institute at Royal Holloway, University of London, commissioned Odyssey for its 25th anniversary. Intended as a journey in music through ancient Greek history, literature, and culture, via settings of poetry throughout the centuries. Kakabadse’s response is involving. The musical language is, unsurprisingly, modal in the earlier movements. Each of the seven movements is headed by the name of a different period, beginning with “Archaic.” Languages are mixed, too: In the first movement, the lower voices sing the opening lines of the first book of Odyssey in ancient Greek over a drone bass before the narration begins, with a solo tenor relating Odysseus’s misfortunes. It is the agony of Prometheus that forms the basis for “Classical.” along with an argument between Antigone and Ismene over their brother’s burial, a dialogue effectively portrayed between sopranos and altos. Dialogue again informs “Hellenistic,” this time between the people and their repeated received response to their questions: “Because the barbarians are coming here today.” This music is more definably tonal, almost sing-song in the manner of a nursery rhyme. When we get to “Roman” (choir only, no harp) it is the Kyrie eleison of the Orthodox faith that suffuses the music; the harp is also silent in “Byzantine,” two hymns for SATB choir, sung in Greek, of which the Kontakion is probably the most familiar (the other being Defender Mother of God). A 16th-century text, Erotocritos by Vitzentzos Komaros, forms the basis for the “Post-Byzantine” movement, a delicate setting whereon minor-mode tonality seems to meld with more modal aspects. The solo voices used in this movement, heard with harp, do seem to be very closely miked, though not too much so. The final movement, “Modern,” comprises the national anthem of Greece in its first part before “Ithaka,” representing the destination of the journey of life. The choir is well schooled, with pure-toned sopranos and fine tuning from all concerned, while the harpist Cecily Beer is simply superb.
There follows a sequence of songs which surround I Remember, a song which unites all concerned in this album effectively. Set to words from Charlotte Bronte’s poem, “Regret, The house where I was born” has a simple piano part which could easily be substituted for by harp or guitar. Clare McCaldin’s rich mezzo is perfect. There is more of a jazz edge to As I Sat at the Cafe, while the storytelling, almost Minimalist at times, of Haunted Houses works well. Offering us the chance to break through our comfort zones, Courage contains much wisdom; Recitative Arioso is taken from a much earlier piece, and an alternative version was included on the disc Concertato mentioned above. McCaldin changes her accent pleasingly during The Ruined Maid, and there is a pleasing sense of folk tale to The Way through the Woods. Perhaps the most impressive song is the final Sancte loseph, initially unaccompanied for the voice until the piano enters chorally, before a final section finds voice and piano exchanging phrases.
The music here is cleverly constructed without wearing its sophistication on its sleeve; the musical language is everywhere approachable.
Colin Clarke (Fanfare – May 2020)