THEODORAKIS: Symphony No. 3. Liturgy No. 2, “For the Young Killed in Wars”.

THEODORAKIS: Symphony No. 3. Liturgy No. 2, “For the Young Killed in Wars”. Heinz Rogner conducting the Berlin Radio Choir and Orchestra of Berlin Comic Opera; Els Bolkestein, soprano; Martin Flamig conducting the Dresdner Kreuzchor. BERLIN CLASSICS 0011282BC [ADD]; two discs: 70:36, 34:05. Produced by Lothar Hubner and Dagmar Vorwerk.

Mikis Theodorakis (b. 1925 is one of Greece’s foremost composers, known for his political activities as well as for musical accomplishments. Indeed, much of his music reflects political and humanitarian concerns. While folk and other vernacular elements appear in some of his work, the compositions with which I am familiar-including the two discussed here–express Theodorakis’ democratic aesthetic values through an accessible mainstream post-Romantic musical language.

This new CD reissue features two of Theodorakis’ major works, both of them threnodic in character. One is the third of (at least) seven symphonies, scored for soprano solo, chorus, and orchestra. This work went through many incarnations and revisions over a period of some 40 years, eventually reaching its final form in 1981. Mahlerian in scope, its four movements last nearly an hour and a quarter, and draw upon the poetry of the early-19th-century Greek patriot Dionysios Solomos. The text, built around the theme of maternal grief, makes the work something of a secular Stabat Mater. While not quite revelatory in its impact, Theodorakis’ Symphony No. 3 offers a distinctive perspective on the large, post-Romantic choral-orchestral symphonic genre as extended into the late 20th century. The music is appealing and generally compelling enough to hold one’s
attention despite its length. The sprawling first movement combines a Hansonian richness with an Orff-like kinetic simplicity and a mournful spirituality that calls the Gorecki Third to mind. This is followed by a defiant scherzo whose use of unusual scale-forms creates an exotic flavor. The third movement is very lyrical, with obvious Mahlerian affinities, while the finale proceeds vigorously, with persistent trochaic rhythmic pa. terns reminiscent of Hindemith. The recording is taken from the premiere performance, sung in Greek, which took place in Berlin in 1982. As such, there is some very unfortunate orchestral playing in several places; otherwise, the performance is adequate.

The Liturgy No. 2, “For the Young Killed in Wars” was composed the following year and carries much the same emotional content as the symphony. Half its duration, the work is scored for chorus a capella; hence it makes a somewhat more austere impression, despite a more consonant and diatonic musical language, colored by modality and some folk-like elements. Generally homophonic with some simple polyphony, the work conveys devotional sentiments with sincerity, simplicity, and immediacy again occasionally reminding one of Carl Orff. The text is based on the poetry of Tasos Livadhitis, augmented by verses contributed by the composer himself. The peacefulness and serenity of the music–a bit bland and monotonous in its lack of contrast–does not quite match the intense grief suggested by the text. The work was commissioned by the Dresdner Kreuzchor, who provide a fine rendition here, though sung in German.

Complete texts are provided in English, French, and German.