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Yannis MARKOPOULOS (b. 1939)
The Liturgy of Orpheus on ancient Orphic poems (1992-94) [64:15]
José Van Dam (bass-baritone); Elena Kelessidi (soprano); Philip Sheffield (narrator); Arielle Valibouse (harp); Marc Grauwels (flute);  Flanders Opera Chorus
Flanders Opera Symphony Orchestra/Edwig Abrath
rec. Studio Steurbaut, Ghent, Belgium, 19-21 September 2007. DDD
NAXOS 8.572235 [64:15]
Experience Classicsonline

This disc appears under the Naxos Greek Classics banner. Markopoulos was born in Crete. The sound of the Byzantine liturgy heard from the church across the road from his childhood home seeped into his marrow. This can certainly be heard in his Liturgy of Orpheus. Just as influential has been the music of the Eastern Mediterranean heard over the radio or at concerts in Heraklion. 1956 saw him moving from Crete to Athens to attend the Conservatory. His studies were broad and included philosophy and sociology alongside music. Early works include the  Hiroshima ballet. When the Greek generals came to power in the late 1960s Markopoulos fled to London where he studied with Elizabeth Lutyens. Iannis Xenakis was also an influence. In 1977 he made his presence felt in the UK with the distinctive title music for the BBC TV series Who Pays the Ferryman? Returning to Greece he founded an ensemble using traditional Greek instruments including the lyre. His Palintonos Armonia Orchestra gave concerts throughout Greece and made several recordings. His works include the Concerto-Rhapsody for Lyre and Symphony Orchestra, the Healing Symphony and four quartets. After The Liturgy of Orpheus he wrote Re-Naissance: Crete between Venice and Constantinople, a musical tapestry – part oratorio  and part opera. It is in four movements. There’s also the opera Erotokritos and Areti. His Shapes in Motion (1999) is a piano concerto inspired by Pythagoras and dedicated to the composer’s daughter Eleni. Later came a spectacular oratorio for voices, choir, wind orchestra, ballet and video projection. Like The Liturgy of Orpheus this reflect the composer’s concern for stewardship of the environment. The movements of the Liturgy are: 1. Orpheus at Olympus; 2. Paean [Triumphal Hymn]; 3. Gaia the Mother Earth; 4. Hymn to Uranus; 5. Hymn to the Sea; 6. Hyperion; 7. Orpheus Descends to Hades; 8. Eurydice is Waiting; 9. Love Has Come; 10. Curetes – Corybantes; 11. A Bacchic Dance; 12. Orpheus and the Furies; 13. The Muses of Pieria; 14. By Way of Love; 15. Oh Physis, Oh Nature; 16. The fates; 17. The Temple of Orpheus; 18. Paean – Epilogue. Despite the Xenakis and Lutyens references this music is anything but discordant or elitist avant-garde. There is about it a sense of a folk-mass. Its devotional atmosphere is perhaps contributed to by an incense-wreathed Greek Orthodox accent to the singing and writing. Lyre, guitar, lute and kanonaki provide decorous adornment to a work in which the voice is paramount. That vocal element is part orated by the  soft-voiced Philip Sheffield and partly sung – singing taking the dominant part. The sections are numerous and brief. Even so there are occasions when a sense of sameness creeps into the listening experience. Also present is a feeling of dance – not a whirling feral thing but a stylised dignified elegance – something of Keats’s Grecian urn. There is rhythmic vitality here but it is not predominant. The texts – printed in full in English in the booklet – are from Orphic poems and special narrative material written by Panos Theodoridis. This is a satisfying piece providing for reflection and gentle discourse.


Rob Barnett


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