The stage cantata David features Eleni Karaindrou’s music for a unique piece of Aegean drama, a verse play with words by an unknown 18th century poet from the island of Chios.
Its text was first published only in 1979, and in the first edition writer Kostas Georgousopoulos noted, “We are in the presence of an important work whose language, structure and genre enrich our theatrical tradition.” A great number of David’s verses were written to be sung and it is believed that the type of music used would have been influenced by Italian baroque melodrama, medieval mysteries, and staged oratorios such as the Azioni sacre of the Habsburg court, based on religious themes which flourished at the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th.
Greek composer Karaindrou has taken all of this into consideration as she rises to the challenge of the text, imaginatively moving between past and present in her settings for singers Irini Karagianni and Tassis Christoyannopoulos, instrumental soloists, and choir and orchestra under the direction of, respectively, Antonis Kontogeorgiou and Alexandros Myrat. Karaindrou’s David is a work of constantly changing musical colours, making inspired use of her now-familiar cast of players including oboist Vangelis Christopoulos, french horn player Vangelis Skouras, flutist, Stella Gadedi, harpist Maria Bildea, trumpeter Sokratis Anthis, cellist Renato Ripo, clarinettist Marie-Cécile Boulard, and bassoonist Sonia Pisk. All of them have made telling contributions to earlier Karaindrou discs, as has guest Kim Kashkashian, whose evocative viola against strings may trigger associations with Eleni’s acclaimed writing for Theo Angelopoulos’s masterpiece Ulysses’ Gaze. Eleni recalls that the late film director often cited David as a favourite work. It was first performed in the Homer Cultural Centre of Chios in 1980, and composition of the music had been influenced by recent events. The section entitled “When I See” is dedicated to the memory of Maria Callas and the music was, says Eleni, “born from the emotional power of an image – a memory of ashes, scattered from the deck of a ship…merging with the swirling waters of the Aegean Sea.”
Indeed the movement of the sea seems an integral component of much of the music here. Time Magazine’s description of Eleni’s music comes to mind: “Dark and brooding, redolent of rich red wine and the salty brine of the sea. At once plaintive and lyrical…” But not exclusively: there is also gleefully malevolent humour in the operatic baritone of Christoyannopoulos on “Devils”, promising to “perplex both wise men and illiterate…make youth lose its mind, force old men from their shells.”
In “The Good Things In Life”, Karagianni sings of the little that can be retained on life’s journey: “Of all the good that passes by / may hearts latch on the residue /And other virtues let go /so calm and slow.” The unknown poet of Chios reminds his readers that blooms will wither and die…
David was revived for a three-day celebration of Eleni Karaindrou’s work at the Megaron in Athens in November 2010, from which the double album and DVD Concert in Athens were also drawn. In performance the musical movements of David were integrated into readings from the Greek text. For CD release producer Manfred Eicher shaped, as Eleni puts it, “a new musical painting” from the material, mixing and editing the music together with recording engineer Nikos Espialidis in Athens in March 2016.
CD booklet includes a liner note by Eleni Karaindrou, English translation of the song lyrics, programme notes on the history of the text, and photos from the performance in Athens.