SKALKOTTAS 32 PIANO PIECES

REVIEWS PUBLISHED IN

"TEMPO MAGAZINE"
"GRAMOPHONE"
"PHONO FORUM"
"RÉPERTOIRE"
"RITHMO"
"CD COMPACT"
"GAZZETTA DI PARMA"
"PIANO JOURNAL"
 

 

Skalkottas' 32 Piano Pieces (as usually known-the correct title is given in
the header) is one of those works whose stature has hitherto been funded on
hearsay and legend, much like the cases of Ives' Fourth or Havergal Brian's
Gothic Symphonies, or Sorabji's Opus Clavicembalisticum, until these works
were recorded. Like the Sorabji, Skalkottas' cycle represents the fullest
panoply of pianism its composer was capable of at the time, though in the
Greek's case this manifests itself by way of an equally exhaustive range of
styles, from high serialism (albeit Skalkottas' own complex brand, not his
teacher Schoenberg's) to ragtime, simple diatonicism to crunching chord
clusters that belie the date of composition-the summer of 1940.
Twenty-two of the pieces here receive their first ever outing on disc, but
in a very real sense these are almost all first recordings since-as
Christophe Sirodeau's extremely detailed (if at times somewhat apologetic)
booklet essay reveals-the present issue uses Skakottas' two manuscript
scores rather than the various error-strewn published versions. (A
definitive edition is clearly essential.) Examination of these manuscripts
has clarified for the annotator many aspects of the music previously
misinterpreted as eccentricities on behalf of the composer-even by
wellintentioned friends and colleagues-and revealed the underlying presence
of the Golden Section in much of the cycle's structure. Sirodeau's
explanations of this for many listeners esoteric subject (likewise of the
composer's love of number games also evident in abundance) are detailed and
invaluable, though some may find them confusing.
In the end, as with the dozens of motivic interconnections between the
pieces, what counts is that the listener hears the cycle as a coherent whole
without necessarily being able to pinpoint how the effect is achieved. This
ultimately depends on the performance, which is magnificently realised.
Given the use-and general unavailability-of the original scores one cannot
fairly compare Samaltanos' accounts with those of the few pieces that have
been recorded before, except to hazard a general view that his are never
disadvantaged. He is certainly the best recorded and, Paris- and
Moscow-trained, clearly possesses a formidable technique. His playing is
crisp and focussed, forceful and delicate as required. Only when further
recordings of the same scores occur will one be able to judge adequately how
much real interpretation of his is present (as, for example, in the infamous
Catastrophe in the jungle, No.4) with its clusters and wild expressionism.
At this juncture, though, Samaltanos is as committed a premiere advocate as
the composer could have wished for. Hearing these accounts one wonders how
these marvellous works could have lain unplayed for so long.
The Golden Section also seemingly explains the odd disposition of the works
across the two discs. The first lasts just over three-quarters of an hour,
ending with the best-known and mostplayed piece of the 32, the Passacaglia,
No.15. The remaining seventeen-plus the Four Studies (1941) and First Suite
(1936)-are crammed onto a 74-minute Disc 2. There is much to be said
musically for starting the release with the major item and Sirodeau regards
the Passacaglia as 'the culmination, the real heart of the cycle' with its
centre 'placed asymmetrically, between the Passacaglia and the Nocturne.' I
cannot say that I entirely agree, though prefacing the 32 Pieces with the
First Suite would seem to provide the set with a chronological and temporal
balance (with discs of 62' and 57'). There is, as Sirodeau concedes
indirectly, an argument for splitting the cycle after the Nocturne (No.16)
which would accord with its two apparent diurnal progressions: from the
initial Andante religioso to the Nocturne, and from the ensuing seventeenth
piece, Dawn Serenade of a Young Girl to the final set of dances. The
Passacaglia is undeniably one of the cycle's peaks, but I prefer to see it
as the third of a series of longer items that tend to cluster towards the
centre of the cycle. This cluster begins with the Intermezzo (No.13),
reaches its peak with the Berceuse (No.20, the longest piece of all at 8'
32", which Sirodeau himself admits to be "the emotional summit of the
cycle") and concludes with the Menuetto (No.23). This group is even framed
by two 'serenades' of medium length: Little Serenade (3' 22") and Italian
Serenade (2'40"). Dividing the set after the
Berceuse would provide two discs of 66' and 54' apiece.

Unsurprisingly, next to the 32 Pieces, the 4 Studies and First Suite (Nos.
2-4 and other piano pieces are slated for a further release) make less of an
impression than they otherwise might do. Both repay perseverance, the
Studies in particular for their harder-edged, more homogeneous textures
giving an indication, perhaps, of the direction Skalkottas' piano writing
might have moved in, just as the Suite shows where the 32 Pieces came from.
BIS' sound is stunningly clear and immediate, as if Samaltanos really was in
the room with one. And when all is said and done, his storming rendition of
the Suite's Presto-Prestissimo finale is a brilliant conclusion to what was
2001 's finest piano release.

Guy Rickards
Tempo Magazine
 

Griechischer Klavier-Kosmos

Zehn Tage nach Richard Strauss starb der Grieche Nikos Skalkottas
(1904-1949), der als Schuller Jarnachs, Schonbergs und Weills zwar die
westeuropaischeTradition kannte, daheim aber in eine- wohl erzwungene-
Isolation geriet. Eine erstrangige Aufnahme macht mit der gut 95 Minuten
langen"Musik fur Klavier" vertraut, 32 Stucken von 1940, einem zentralen
Werk des Komponisten, der ein eigenes System derZwolf-tonigkeit fand.
Die Begegnung mit dieser Musik,die zum grossten Teil erstmals aufgezeichnet
wurde, ist eine Sensation. Es offnet sich ein freitonal entworfener Kosmos
der Vielgestaltigkeit, zwischen Ragtine und "Berceuse" ein mit Reminiszenzen
nicht geizender Reigen,der bei allem Stilpluralismus von tiefer Geistigkeit
getragen wird. Die 2169 Takte (!) , nach dem goldenen Schnitt konzipiert,
formen einen der komplexesten Klavierzyklen des 2O. Jahrhunderts. Irrwitzig
schwierig,voller Erinneruhgen in gebrochenen Klangen wie aus weiter
Ferne.Auch die vier spater entstandenen Etuden und die erste Suite ( eine
Aufuahme mit anderen Suiten wird folgen) dokumentieren einen gestalterischen
Ernst, der in gewisser Nahe zu Busoni steht.

Der griechische Pianist Nikolaos Samaltanos der sich bei der"Musik" an eine
"verruckte Kinonacht"zwischen Tag und Traum erinnert fuhlt, hat sich
intensiv mit den Editionen und ihren Fehlern beschaftigt. Er spielt mit
einer Vehemenz und Souveranitat, wie man sie sich haufiger wunschen wurde.
Seine Interpretation macht in ihrer Differenzierungskunst zwischen
impressionistischer Tonung und eruptiver Jagd deutlich, wie hoch Skalkottas
einzuschatzen ist. Das Beiheft liefert dazu fundierte Informationen.

Michael Stenger
FONO FORUM Sept 2001
Interprétation 5/5
Son 5/5
 

FONO FORUM Sept 2001(traduction française)

Mort 10 jours plus tard que R. Strauss, le grec Nikos Skalkottas en tant
qu'élève de Jarnach, Schönberg et Weill connaissait la tradition
occidentale, mais il se trouva par force isolé du monde. Dans cet
enregistrement de première classe on peut faire connaissance avec les plus
de 95 minutes que constitue "Musik für Klavier", 32 Pieces pour piano de
1940, une oeuvre centrale de ce compositeur qui avait trouvé son propre
système de dodécaphonie.
La rencontre avec cette musique qui, pour la plupart des pieces, est en
création [premier enregistrement], est sensationelle. On découvre un cosmos
d'atonalité libre, plein de spiritualité profonde, avec de multiples liens
entre "Ragtime" et autre "Berceuse" en rondes de réminiscences généreuses
que donnent toute la pluralité des styles. Les 2169 (!) mesures concues et
construites selon le Nombre d'Or, forment un des plus complexes cycles pour
piano du 20ème siècle, rempli de folles blagues, plein de souvenirs,
d'accords brisés comme venant du lointain. Les 4 Etudes et la Première
Suite (les autres suivront dans un prochain enregistrement) nous
documentent sur une sérieuse créativité, avec certaines connexions proche
de Busoni.

Le pianiste grec Nikolaos Samaltanos, pour qui les 32 Pieces sont une
"folle nuit cinématographique" reliant le Jour et les Rêves, a réalisé un
effort éditorial intensif concernant l'exactitude du texte déformé par des
éditions éronnées. Il joue avec une véhémence et une souveraineté telle
qu'on voudrait en rencontrer plus souvent. Son interprétation, avec son art
de la différenciation, entre une coloration impressioniste et une sauvage
chasse éruptive, montre clairement combien hautement il faut considérer
Skalkottas. Le livret donne en plus des informations fondées.

Michael Stenger
FONO FORUM Sept 2001
Interprétation 5/5
Son 5/5
 

A welcome complete vercion of Musik für Klavier with two substantial
couplings

Sixty-one years after its completion, Skalkottas' Musik für Klavier -the
overal title of his 32 Piano Pieces - can assume its place among the major
piano cycles of the 20th century. Formidably difficult technically, its
apparently disparate content - there is not the conceptual focus of, say,
Messiaen's Vingt regagds sur l'enfant Jésus - may have militated against its
wider recognition.
So itis a tribute to Nikolaos Samaltanos, in this first complete recording,
that he projects the work as an integral entity. and as the compendium of
mid-century pianism that the composer intended.
Achieving equal conviction across such diversity is a tall order, given the
absence of a performing tradition against which to assess an interpretation.
...
The powerful rhetoric of the Passacaglia (No 15)and sombre poetry of
Nachtstück (No 16), a double-apex on all levels, are impressively wrought,
while the relative nonchalance of the closing divertissement (No 25-32) is
dispatched with élan.
...
Other recordings will surely follow: Geoffrey Douglas Madge gave a superb
performance in Berlin last year, but he will be hard pressed to match the
scintillating virtuosity of Samaltanos in Katastrophe (No 4) or the Etüde
Phantastique (No 19).

The couplings are much more than fillers. Suite No 1 marks the onset of
Skalkottas'mature piano writing?the pungent character of Scoenberg's Opp 23
and 25 allied to Busonian textural richness, while the Etudes take pianism
of the 32 pieces in an even more uncompromising direction. Wide-ranging
sound, lacking only the last degree of clarity in the more heavily chorded
pieces,and detailed notes from Christophe Sirodeau.

A timely release urgently recommended.

Richard Whitehouse
GRAMOPHONE November 2001
 

Contraint pour vivre à monnayer ses talents de violoniste au sein de
plusieurs orchestres grecs, Nikos Skalkottas est depuis le debut des annees
60 progressivement reconnu comme un compositeur au talent extremement
original. Bien qu'ayant eu la chance d'etre I'eleve à Berlin d'Amold
Schoenberg et de Kurt Weill, il ne parvint à faire executer de son vivant
que quelques rares compositions tonales ou modales, alors que I'essentiel de
son abondante production serielle surtout atonale ne reussit pas à etre
cree. Vaillant defenseur de cette musique exigeante, le pianiste grec
Nikolaos Samaltanos s'est activement consacre a la restitution, à la
creation et I'enregistrement de plusieurs de ces compositions, fascine par
I'originalite du langage, aussi recherche dans la mise en oeuvre des moyens
pianistiques que dans I'ecriture harmonique. Partant du principe de la serie
dodecaphonique, Skalkottas structure souvent ses oeuvres sur un grande
nombre de series superposees, processus conduisant a une ecriture faite de
blocs sonores soigneusement agences. Le programme propose reunit la Suite n°
1 de 1936, les Quatre Etudes de 1941 , et surtout le cycle des Trente deux
Pieces de 1940, dont la duree totale excede une heure et demie. Le
remarquable texte de presentation qui accompagne cet enregistrement donne
une analyse precise de chacune de ces quarante pages, dont la duree moyenne
avoisine trois minute: apparemment coulees dans les formes et traditions
classiques, ces pieces portent des titres de danses (de la gavotte au
slow-fox), de structures à variations (passacaille ou encore canon et de
genres caracteristiques (Serenade, marche funebre et autre musique
nocturne). La diversite rythmique en est frappante, autant entre elles qu'au
sein meme de certaines, et la variete de climats y semble presque sans
limite puisqu'allant d'episodes extatique dans une nuance triple piano à des
traits frenetiques ou fantomatiques devant etre executes fortissimo. Le jeu
ferme, precis et delie de Nikolaos Samaltanos met bien en evidence ces
frequents contrastes. Chacune des trente-deux Pieces (faut-il voir dans ce
nombre une references aux trente-deux sonates de Beethoven ?), bien que de
courte duree, est soigneusement caracterisee, ce qui contribue
paradoxalement à souligner I'unite de ce cycle, soigneusement recherchee par
ce compositeur.

Gerard Honoré
Interprétation 8 /10
RÉPERTOIRE Janv 2001

 

Si usted que me lee es un aficionado a la musica del siglo xx y se considera
una persona formada, no se pierda este notabilisimo album. Mas de la mitad
del disco se graba por primera vez y sus dos horas y pico de musica le
descubriran a un artista inmenso. Como Pessoa, el griego Nikos Skalkottas
(1904/49) pertenece a la periferia geografica de las vanguardias, lo que le
ha impedido formar parte de las estrellas consagradas internacionalmente.
Pero no se engane, como Pessoa, Skalkottas deberia figurar en el panteon del
siglo xx. Esta antologia para piano solo le abrira un mundo. Luego debera
usted investigar por su cuenta. Suele decirse que Skalkottas es un discipulo
de Schonberg, pero, aunque estudio en Berlin entre 1921 y 1933 (con
Schonberg entre 1927 y 1930), la personalidad del musico griego es
suficientemente solida como para no deberle nada. Bueno, un poco.
Cierta teorizacion de la serialidad dodecafonica viene indiscutiblemente de
Viena, pero Skalkottas la adapta a sus propios deseos expresivos de un modo
perfectamente heterodoxo. No solo porque piensa por su cuenta, sino porque
en el se produce la curiosa posibilidad de no ver contradiccion entre
Schonberg y Stravinsky. Tras su regreso a Grecia, Skalkottas tuvo los
tipicos encontronazos de la gente excepcional en los paises miserables (que
tan bien conocemos les espanoles) de manera que su obra no tuvo la menor
repercusion. Su muerte, cuando solo contaba 45 anos, no contribuyo a mejorar
las cosas. Pero en el ultimo decenio comienza a valorarse su music a y hay
ya algunas ediciones a las que acudir en busca de mayor informacipn. Y
placer. Seguramente el musico que mas se le asemeja (no formalmente sino
existencialmente) es Alban Berg, y no dudo en compararles tambien en la
altura de su arte. Ciertamente, las piezas breves que se recogen en este
album no permiten mas que un primer encuentro poetico, hay que escuchar
luego su music a sinfonica o de concierto, pero en la variedad, el humor, la
inventiva y la gracia(en el sentido schilleriano) de estas obras se
encuentra in nuce el alma de Skalkottas. Datan de 1940/41 y han tardado
sesenta anos en grabarse Aunque la interpretacion de Samaltanos no puede
compararse con nada... porque nadie mas ha interpretado en disco este
repertorio, debe de ser muy bueno, como se deduce de mi entusiasmo.

Beniamin Fontvella
CD COMPACT Sept 2001
 

"En la obra de Skalkottas hay buenas ideas y bastante musica "

El mas grande compositor griego del siglo? Nikos Skalkottas (1904-1949),
discipulo de Arnold Schoenberg y Kurt Weill, lo es, segun la mas reputada
voz critica de la musica griega, el musicologo Harry Halbreich. Si este
comentarista, que ha escuchado con mucha atencion (a veces transmutada en
resignacion) las dos horas que duran estos discos, hubiera de emitir su
opinion al respecto. en su desconocimiento total deI asunto y con solo la
impresion de la escucha, habria de manifestar que algo de ello debe haber,
pues en esta pequena parte de la Obra de Skalkottas (que a pesar de su corta
existencia escribio mas de 100 composiciones, entre musica orquestal, de
camara e instrumental) hay muchas buenas ideas, y bastante musica. Como es
logico, las influencias de la Escuela de Viena son notorias, pero nunca se
transforman en dogma: hay en su musica (al menos en la parte que se incluye
en este disco) mucho de Bartok y Stravinsky, entremezclados con la fina y
distanciada ironia de Weill. O sea, esta bien conocerla. Por otro lado, me
ha dado la impresion de que, como era de esperar, esta muy bien defendida
por el joven pianista ateniense Nikolaos Samaltanos, que asume el asunto con
claras intenciones apostolicas. En fin, para curiosos y hartos del
repertorio pianistico habitual.

P.G.M. RITHMO Sept 2001
 

IL CLASSICO IN DISCOTECA Il fascino oscuro di Skalkottas
Il nome di Nikos Skalkottas, compositore greco, scomparso nel 1949 all'età
di soli quarantacinque anni, anche per i più assidui frequentatori di
concerti, suona come sconosciuto, ma chi abbia avuto occasione di
avvicinarsi alla sua musica, cosa oggi resa fortunatamente possibile grazie
ad una serie di dischi della BIS, non potrà non averne subito il fascino.
Una storia, quella di Skalkottas, abbastanza singolare, nei modi in cui la
sua formazione musicale, avvenuta in Germania sotto la guida di vari
musicisti, tra cui anche Schoenberg (che lo ricorderà come uno dei suoi
allievi più dotati) e Kurt Weill, agisce sopra una natura nutrita di umori
mediterranei e al tempo stesso sollecitata intimamente da una visione di
estrema chiarezza.
Da ciò un risultato di straordinaria originalità che sembra sottrarsi ad
ogni tipo di riferimento troppo determinato; come si può ben cogliere dalla
produzione pianistica di cui un cofanetto di due dischi propone le opere
principali, in particolare una composizione colossale rappresentata dai «32
Pezzi» (1940), quasi un'ora e mezzo di musica, organizzata secondo rapporti
e proporzioni interne, il gioco della sezione aurea ad esempio, che
sottendono la presenza decantata della classicità; e tuttavia tale misura
segreta trova invece come un contrappasso liberatorio nella densità
contrappuntistica, una trama quanto mai complessa, resa inquieta da
addensamenti armonici inconsueti, squarci di espressività diretta che la
stesso urgenza dell'impianto ritmico, nella predilezione verso l'ostinato e
pure nutrito dall'humus folclorico sembra esasperare.
La tecnica dodecafonica si plasma con libertà inedita e mai esclusiva, così
che l'orizzonte viennese, evocato talora da certe movenze berghiane, pare
dilatarsi verso tante altre direzioni, con diramazioni bartokiane e
stravinskiane, ma pure - e questo è l'aspetto più avvincente della musica di
Skalkottas - con premonizioni, nel modo di far fermentare la materia sonora,
che ci portano addirittura a Ligeti e a Xenakis.
Musica difficilissima per le quasi insormontabili asperità della scrittura
pianistica, ha trovato nel giovane pianista greco Nikolaos Samaltanos un
interprete tanto intensamente coinvolto quanto ardimentoso ed efficace.

GAZZETTA DI PARMA g.p.m.
 

 ....Listening to them again with the scores incrensed my admiration for the
imperturdadle virtuosity of Nikolaos Samaltanos, when who defics resson (and
Gunter Schuller!) by playing some of the wilder ones right up to the
"downright impossible" speeds suggested by the composer. Pianistes apart
they present quite a test to follow and would need an agilo page-turner to
keep up!
I cannot vouch for having heard every note, but Samaltanos's pedalling is
duly sparing and he maintains delicacy and clarity in a piece like Fantastic
Etude at crotchet = 182 ( Schuller advises on 112)...

Peter Grahame Woolf
PIANO JOURNAL - Autumn 2001

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