BIS’s SACD premiere recordings open up a new perspective on Skalkottas’ orchestral works not least via the stylish, stylistically and historically apt orchestrations of Yannis Samprovalakis. He has produced orchestrations for three of the works here, editing a fourth.

Though the Sinfonietta in B flat major of 1948, which is the work Samprovalakis has edited, is often said to be neo-classical it frequently cleaves closer to neo-Romanticism. It has a popular element to it, and is quite emphatic for late Skalkottas, its dance motifs full of unforced jollity, its sonata form finale complete with blaring March theme, the opening of the first movement then returning on the brass to square the circle. Oddly, to these British ears, there’s something almost Waltonian about it.

Back in 1930 he had written a Concerto for Violin, Piano and Orchestra which was premièred under the conductor and composer Karel Mengelberg. The orchestral score is now missing so the orchestration is based on that of another work premiered in Berlin at the same time, Honegger’s Concertino for piano and orchestra. At 11 minutes this is a concise, somewhat curt and abrasive neo-classical piece that opens out into loping charismatic paragraphs for the string soloist and crisp attaca. The brittle rhythmic drive of the piano in the finale is extremely exciting.

Another work written at almost the same time is also missing its orchestration and that’s the Suite for Violin and Chamber Orchestra of 1929, another work composed in Berlin. Four of the five movements have been reconstructed and orchestrated along the lines of contemporary works by Schoenberg, Weill, Stravinsky and Hindemith. The finale only survives in a violin part so it hasn’t been included. If this work appeals strongly, it’s worth considering a disc that presents the violin and piano version on Melism MLS CD 025, played by Nina Pissareva Zymbalist and Nikolaos Samaltanos. This does include the finale’s violin part – solo, obviously, which is a solution of sorts. Whilst the two performances are clearly not strictly comparable it’s useful perhaps to note the greater plasticity and speed of Georgios Demertzis’s reading with conductor Byron Fidetzis. The orchestration allows the distribution of high-low sonorities to sound with great intensity.

Digenés in his Last Agony is a Cretan traditional song and this is a fascinating recording. The song was recorded on a 78rpm disc in 1930 by the Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos and this is what we hear with the orchestration used based on Skalkottas’ text and harmonization and played by the Athens Philharmonia. 1930 meets 2018.

The Two Marches and Nine Greek Dances date from 1946-47. Of the two marches, the Ancient Greek March is more interesting than the rather generic Tempo di Marcia. The remaining Greek Dances, however, spry and short – one lasts over five minutes but the rest generally don’t break the two-minute mark – offer varied and vivaciously textured pleasure. Skalkottas’ own orchestrations are truly vivid, as one would expect.

Demertzis is a splendid exponent of the violin works and pianist Vassilis Varvaresos proves an able equal in the ‘double’ concerto. Fidetzis proves yet again to be an admirable exponent of the composer. And Samprovalakis himself, who has written the excellent notes, provides expertise and a sure sense of the composer’s intent in his orchestrations that most successfully, aided by an outstanding recording, brings the works powerfully to life.

Jonathan Woolf


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