Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Music | NYC, An Evening of Greek Song

The Onassis Cultural Center, recently the host of a fascinating exhibition on El Greco’s Iconographical School, provided the space for a recital: VOICE VERSES: An Evening of Poetry Set to Music on Tuesday, May 11, 2010, at 7:00 P.M.

The Center is located in the Olympic Tower on Fifth Avenue, New York, with the entrance on 51st street.

The Center’s exhibition/performance space is much more modest, being located on a lower level, with small rooms and dropped ceilings. A cascading waterfall and fountain visible through glass in the room does provide some visual interest to the setting.

The performers were Irini Karaianni, mezzo-soprano, accompanied by Nikolaos Laaris on the piano.

All of the works were sung very ably by Ms. Karaianni in the original Greek.
Cinq Mélodies populaires grecques by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), with texts based on Greek folk songs closed the recital. The majority of the program, works not frequently heard in recital, were by twentieth-century Greek composers.


The program opened with the U.S. premiere of four songs by the composer Sayvas Kassotis (b. 1948), with texts by C. P. Cavafy. A medical doctor by profession, Kassotis’ music hovered in the lower register with bass ostinati in the piano, and minor modes in the melody, complementing the melancholic poems of love.
Two songs by Manos Hadjidakis (1925-1994) from his Magnus Eroticus song cycle, opus 30, with texts by Odysseus Elytis and F. G. Lorca (translated into Greek) followed. These likewise featured lower registers, with an almost elegaic tone—-a departure from his music for the film Never on Sunday.
Mikis Theodorakis (b. 1925), who composed the music for the film Zorba, contributed the next four songs. These were brighter, lovely works, set in major keys. Writing for the voice was dramatic, with the piano doubling the melody in the voice.
The next two works were by Periklis Koukos (b. 1960). The first, “Nocturne”, from Manuel Salinas, his children’s opera was in a lighter, brighter, sprightly setting.
The poetry of C. P. Cavafy provided the text for two songs by Dimitris Papadimitriou (b. 1959). In contrast to the earlier works, there was prominent figuration in the upper registers of the piano, with modal melodies.

The aforementioned works by Ravel ended the program.

The evening was a wonderful presentation of the songs. Many in the audience were familiar with the works, as humming and ahs of recognition were heard throughout the program. The songs were instantly accessible, on the whole diatonic, strophic, four-bar melodies, in a very popular vein. The piano provided a suitable accompaniment to the dramatic voice of Ms. Karaianni.