As a composer, Eleni Karaindrou may not be a name as widely known in America as Steve Reich or Philip Glass or even John Rutter. No matter. She should be. Karaindrou has spent the last three decades writing scores for the films of her countrymen, most notably the maverick -- and widely celebrated -- Greek directors Theophilus Angelopoulos, Lefteris Xanthopoulos, and Christoforos Christofis, as well as for stage plays (Trojan Women, based on Euripides), and her own major work, "The Great Vigilance," from 1971. These are just ...
As a composer, Eleni Karaindrou may not be a name as widely known in America as Steve Reich or Philip Glass or even John Rutter. No matter. She should be. Karaindrou has spent the last three decades writing scores for the films of her countrymen, most notably the maverick -- and widely celebrated -- Greek directors Theophilus Angelopoulos, Lefteris Xanthopoulos, and Christoforos Christofis, as well as for stage plays (Trojan Women, based on Euripides), and her own major work, "The Great Vigilance," from 1971. These are just to name a few. Her film scores number 20, and she's written more than 40 for theater and television productions. In addition to the Greek directors, she has also collaborated with Harold Pinter and Margarethe von Trotta, among others. Pardon the pedestrian explanation, but Karaindrou doesn't write "soundtrack music." She writes scores. She is as serious and as involved a composer as Mahler, Ustvolskaya, or Pärt. Elegy of the Uprooting is a double-disc live recording from her label, ECM. It was recorded in performance in Athens, with the composer playing piano, with an group numbering 110 musicians that included the Camerata Orchestra conducted by Alexandros Myrat, the Hellenic Radio and Television Choir, and a traditional instruments ensemble. Despite the presence of so many, there is nothing in this music that is overblown or bombastic. Instead, she follows her compositional dictum and understates everything so that the emotion comes out of the music. It resets a great deal of Karaindrou's music, from all phases of her career, in a context that is glorious and full of beauty, tragedy, myth, movement, and displacement -- she calls it a "scenic cantata." The music found here comes from her cinematic scores -- Weeping Meadow, Eternity and a Day, Ulysses' Gaze, The Suspended Step of the Stork, The Beekeeper, Landscape in the Mist (all films directed by Angelopoulos), Christofis' Rosa, Happy Homecoming Comrade by Xanthopoulos, and the music from The Price of Love, a theatrical production of Chekov's The Seagull, produced by Julie Dassin. That all of this music can be seamlessly articulated as a single work, covering her most basic themes -- love, exodus, loss, tragedy, and homecoming -- is not only a testament to the composer but to the place in Greek cultural history she has embraced, celebrated, and been woven inseparably into. The recording itself is perfect. The sound is full, warm, rich, and lush even in its spare moments. It is dramatic, not melodramatic. It is restrained in places to bring out in the listener a kind of unbearable longing for resolution, yet it is resolved in itself. It never needs more than it provides. The singers are all top of the board, especially soloist Maria Farantouri. She worked with Karaindrou on Trojan Women and was fully integrated into this project. Attempting to describe the singular sound that comes from many sources is all but ridiculous. Suffice to say it uses folk forms, the classical tradition in the West and East, and even Orthodox liturgical notions to create something otherworldly, out of time and space; it is so utterly sophisticated as to sound simple, and will appeal to anyone who has blood instead of sawdust flowing through her or his veins. Karaindrou is a giant. In her quiet way she towers over more popular figures, simply by digging through the historical, cultural, and musical past, through the images brought forth by them, and by the poetics of the human heart. There is no hollow sentimentality in this work. In fact, it is stripped of that artifice to reach the purity of emotion, presented by a composer and musicians who understand restraint, allowing the story presented here to reveal itself, not by narrative so much as by context and the honesty of the music itself. Without doubt, this is the modern classical recording of 2006 and will go down as a classic in the field. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi