Review By Jerry Dubins,Fanfare,April 2007
This is a follow-on to two previous Kerkezos releases, both reviewed in 28:5. This time, saxophonist Theodore Kerkezos lavishes his considerable talent exclusively on works by 20th-century Greek composers, in contrast to the mixed, eclectic programs offered previously. All but Theodorakis's Cretan Concertino-which was composed in 1952 as a sonatina for violin and piano-and Skalkottas's Concertino-composed in 1939 for oboe and piano-were written for alto or soprano sax. All items on the disc are, according to Naxos, world premiere recordings. The saxophone, to my ear, is an instrument that can be mellifluous, soothing, and highly expressive-when it is well played, that is; and no one I know of on the scene today plays it with more of a polished technique or produces such a
The choice of repertoire here needn't frighten anyone away. For the most part, these are pieces with a traditional pedigree wearing the outer trappings of a highly palatable modernist style. In fact, all of the music here is accessible and quite beautiful. The Cretan Concertina immediately reveals its composer's French training at the Paris Conservatory; its first movement has the character of a jazzy Latin dance that took a detour on its way to Piazzolla via Milhaud. The second movement is a touching lament, and the third movement starts off like The Flight of the Bumblebee. Less than four minutes in length, Theodorakis's Adagio is the kind of piece you will play over and over again. It is dirge of heartrending beauty with an underlying accompaniment that is close to an exact takeoff on Rachmaninoffs Isle of the Dead. Theodorakis, you will recall, composed the score to Zorba the Greek, so here is a composer who knows how to write music for maximum emotional effect. Skalkottas's Concertino is a perky, plucky thing. His studies with Schoenberg may have led him to write in a non-tonal idiom, but this piece is full of wit in its first and last movements, and dreamily Impressionistic in its second. Theodor Antoniou's Concerto piccolo, written as recently as 2000 and dedicated to Kerkezos, is no more modem sounding than is the Skalkottas. Minas Alexiadis's Phrygian Litany follows in a mood somewhat similar to Theodorakis's Adagio; while Vassilis Tenidis's highly colorful, cinematic Rhapsody of Pont os is a more animated, ethnocentric sounding piece, based as it is on the rhythms and altered scales of the folk dances of Pontos.
In a typed note from Kerkezos that came to me separate from the CD, he asked that I pay special attention to Manos Hadjidakis's "Mr. Knoll," a piece that apparently resonates for him with some particular meaning. Another film composer, Hadjidakis won an Oscar for his song in Never on Sunday. Like Theodorakis, Hadjidakis knows how to pull the heartstrings, and "Mr. Knoll," the seventh movement of an extended song cycle titled Gioconda's Smile, is definitely a tearjerker with an unhappy ending.
This is a wonderful CD. I love this music, I love Kerkerzos's playing of it, and I cannot recommend it to you too highly.