various artists,
Famous Greek Composers
(ARC, 2003)

This is the year to be Greek. With the unexpected soccer victory in Euro 2004 and the Olympics returning to Athens, all things Hellenic will be in the spotlight. This CD from reliable folklorists ARC presents a fusion of classical, folk, new age and pop. It includes most of the well-known names in Greek music from Mikis Theodorakis to Yanni.

It's music that blends Eastern and Middle Eastern sounds with pop stylings of the West in a way that is instantly identifiable. It features trademark rolling percussion, stringed and wind instruments such as the violin and clarinet and some electronic music as well. The once-scorned bouzouki is now nearly obligatory.

There are some spectacular instrumentalists and soloists on this CD. In particular, we hear some stunning violin from Nicos Cosmos on two tracks. Vocalists Anastassia and Maria Farantouri stand out. Farantouri's soulful contralto on "Ta Ifestis (The Volcanoes)" by Theodorakis is exceptional. On "Kaymos (The Blues)," Theodorakis himself sings in a folky tenor in a duet with Yannis Bezos.

Of the composers, Theodorakis and Manos Hadjidakis are the most impressive, most original and most expressive.

Yanni and Vangelis are well known in America and Western Europe. Both blend Greek themes with contemporary stylings to find a niche somewhere between world music and new age. It does not always work for me, though. On "Carol's Theme," Cosmos solos nicely on the violin, but Yanni's use of electronics is a bit disconcerting.

While some of the solo instrumental performances are excellent, many of the tracks suffer from predictable arrangements. They often sound just like what we expect Greek music to sound like at a restaurant in Tarpon Springs, Florida, or Toronto's Danforth.

One often wishes these fine instrumentalists could be heard in a more authentic folk idiom. I'd be curious to hear ARC's take on the best "non-famous" Greek composers.

- Rambles
written by David Cox
published 31 July 2004

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