Friday, May 16, 2014

CCC 102 - Nikos Xanthoulis

This week the Consonant Classical Challenge focuses on Greek composer Nikos Xanthoulis. Xanthoulis is an accomplished trumpeter as well as a composer. Not surprisingly, he's written a concerto for his instrument (as well as other shorter works for solo trumpet). Xanthoulis is also interested in the cultural heritage of his country, and has used the fruits of his research in his compositions. He's composed incidental music for classic Greek dramas, such as Euripides' "Helen," Aeschylus' "Agammenon," and "Antigone."

Xanthoulis uses tonality in a fundamentally different fashion than composers of Western Europe. Chords support the melodies, but the harmonies remain static. Motion is provided by rhythm and syncopation rather than harmonic transitions.

"Dimoula Intro" is part of a cycle based on the poetry of fellow countryman Kiki Dimoula. Xanthoulis uses traditional instruments, such as the accordion, acoustic guitar and violin to give the music a folk ensemble sound. But the treatment of the material belies its seemingly simple origins. Xanthoulis develops his themes in a contrapuntal (and decidedly non-folk like) fashion.

The Fugue 12-6-2012 further establishes Xanthoulis' "classical" credentials. This orchestral work is abstract in design, with melodies that have more than a hint of romanticism about them. But the cerebreal nature of the counterpoint is mitigated somewhat by the restless Greek folk rhythms that keep the work moving forward.

As expected, Xanthoulis' Fantasy for Trumpet and Piano is a work that fully explores the potential of the solo instrument. Just not in a way one might expect. The music begins quietly with hint of jazz inflection (do to the 9ths and 11ths in the chords), then moves to more rhythmic sections. But make no mistake: this is a carefully constructed classical work throughout.

The Magic Violin is an appealing interpretation of folk material. I don't know if it's officially considered a folk opera, but based on the excerpts I auditioned, it certainly sounds like one. And that's not a bad thing. Ethnically-based music can provide freshness and energy to the operatic stage, as it does in the excerpt below.

Nikos Xanthoulis is a composer with an original voice. But not an incomprehensible one. I think most audiences -- no matter how conservative -- would find his music both appealing and interesting. It's certainly hard to ignore his infectious rhythms! There's a lot of his music I wish I could hear -- but I dispair of any orchestra being so bold as to program it. The Trumpet Concerto, the Concerto for Two Guitars, the Concerto for 4 Horns, the Fantasia, Prelude, and Fuga for piano and strings -- I'm curious to hear how Xanthoulis handled these large-scale forms. Perhaps someday I'll have the opportunity to hear them.

Recommended Recordings

Works by Greek Composers for Trumpet

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