Eleni Karaindrou: Concert in Athens

The 18 pieces on Concert in Athens originated in different soundtracks and theater productions that the Greek composer Eleni Karaindrou has written since 1975. Yet the album flows together like one larger piece. Some tracks have clear breaks while others segue. Soloists often set a scene that the string orchestra reshapes in time for another instrument to take the spotlight. Recorded in 2010 with the Camerata Friends of Music Orchestra, Karaindrou takes piano duties, with longtime collaborators Jan Garbarek (tenor saxophone), Kim Kashkashian (viola) and Vangelis Christopoulos (oboe) joining on the dramatic set.

Karaindrou favors minor keys, which are heard throughout the majority of the album. Of course Death of a Salesman and The Glass Menagerie wouldn’t feel right with brighter themes, and her writing conjures the pathos of these plays. When the orchestra sustains a dark chord in “Requiem for Willy Loman” (which begins and ends the album), Garbarek offers simple but intense ruminations. He turns smoky on Glass Menagerie‘s “Tom’s Theme,” which acts as an interlude to the bright “Laura’s Waltz” from the same play. Here the tenor changes shape through tone and vibrato that recall the swing era, with support from a sweet viola. The latter instrument is especially haunting on “After Memory,” as Kashkashian plays lines around the tenor. In “Nostalgia Song,” the composer’s piano wonders if such wistful feelings might be underscored by longing or regret. “Waiting” recalls Erik Satie, with a harp providing an ostinato to bolster a pensive keyboard line.

ECM’s Manfred Eicher again deserves credit for his production work. Although this was recorded live, no audience response is heard, applause or otherwise, keeping all the attention on this spellbinding music, which comes to life.