Thoroughly approachable yet not facile
Born in Southport, Lydia Kakabadse, grew up in Altrincham, Cheshire. Her string quartet Russian Tableaux wasbroadcast by BBC Radio 3 in 2015 and 2017. Her family lineage derives from Greece, Austria, Russia and Georgia. It is at least superficially alluring to think that these (from our stance) exotic elements have played their part in the sound of her music. However that may be, Odyssey and some of the songs featured on this disc do look to the musical cultures of the countries that gather around the Mediterranean seaboard. It was not out of place for this collection to sport the title “Ithaka”, which, apart from its Homeric resonance, also signifies “a person’s journey through life”.
This disc gathers nine songs for mezzo and piano and Odyssey a work for choir and harp. I remember, a keenly nostalgic song with choir and harp and violin solo is placed among the songs and sets the famous words by Thomas Hood. It’s a lullingly tender invention. The songs are a miscellany ranging from Bernstein and Britten revue style (As I sat at the cafe) to Middle Eastern (Recitative Arioso) to the rural cruelty of Hardy’s The Ruined Maid. They are performed by the dark-toned dramatic Clare McCaldin. Her pianist, Paul Turner is adept at picking up and sustaining styles which are many and varied across these nine songs. The last song, Sancte Ioseph, leans in towards the rites of the Greek Orthodox Church. I cannot quite put my finger on the element they have in common but several times I caught myself thinking of Donald Swann’s Mediterranean songs as collected on Hyperion and, unusually enough also on Divine Art.
Odyssey, which fits instantly with the title “Ithaka”, was commissioned by the Hellenic Institute at Royal Holloway University of London and was premiered in 2018. Its seven movements are: I. Archaic; II. Classical; III. Hellenistic; IV. Roman; V. Byzantine; VI. Post-Byzantine and VII. Modern. Archaic is all mystery and incense. Classical, with intervention from an hieratic solo male voice, has enlivening breezes blowing through its textures. Hellenistic moved from spoken words, evocative of some rite, to a carol that takes wing. Roman conjures up images of a service in a great cathedral. Byzantine comprises an Akathistic Hymn paired with a Kontakion. This is followed by the plangent and honeyed Post-Byzantine. Modern deploys the Greek National Anthem (vibrantly yet not overwhelmingly sung – amongst the finest of anthems) and harnesses it to the intoxicating yet philosophical life-journey poem “Ithaka” by Constantine P Cavafy (1863-1933), a poet championed by Forster, Toynbee and Eliot. The harp is a constant and beneficent presence across Odyssey.
Kakabadse, as a composer whose always melodic music is thoroughly approachable, features in commercial recordings that have been pretty liberally documented by this site: including a Naxos volume Phantom Listeners, and two earlier Divine Arts issues: Concertato and Cantica Sacre.
All the words are printed legibly in the booklet (both Greek and English in one case) alongside background to each work, movement and musician.
Rob Barnett (November 2019)