For more than two decades, Eleni Karaindrou has been composing film scores for Theo Angelopoulos and releasing soundtracks on ECM, including Ulysses' Gaze (1995), with violist Kim Kashkashian, and Music for Films, where Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek performs music from the Greek film director's The Beekeeper (1986). Concert in Athens isn't Karaindrou's first live recording; 2006's Elegy of the Uprooting takes that honor, a two-CD retrospective culled from eleven Angelopoulos films and Karaindrou's 2002 theater score for Trojan Women. Concert in Athensrecorded more than five years after Elegy of the Uprooting but in the same Megaron (Hall of the Friends of Music) venuetakes a much different approach to repertoire.
With Garbarek and Kashkashian as featured soloists, Karaindrou includes brief nods to earlier works, with Garbarek's tenor a focal point on The Beekeeper's poignant "Farewell Theme," and Kashkashian's melodic call-and-response with oboist Vangelis Christopoulosalso back from the same recording but subsequently a more regular Karaindrou collaboratorsoaring equally over the pedal tone intro to Ulysses' Gaze's "Dance."
Karaindrou also tips her hat to The Weeping Meadow, and Dust of Time (2009), but the majority of this 54-minute performance is new musicand not to Angelopoulos films. Instead, she scores American theater classics including Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman (1949), Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie (1944) and Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virignia Woolf (1962).
Does looking across the Atlantic for inspiration make a difference in Karaindrou's music? Hardly; fragile emotions are rarely far from the surface, and it would be no small challenge to find another score to Death of a Salesman more painfully elegiac than the two versions of "Requiem for Willy Loman" that bookend Concert in Athens, featuring Garbarek's ever-perfect tone and spare but unerring choices. Karaindrou also gives Garbarek "Adagio for Saxophone," a soft but somewhat foreboding miniature where Alexandros Myrat conducts the Camerata Orchestra with the perfect combination of elegance and dramatic restraint.
Like Garbarek, Karaindrou's understanding of where Kashkashian's strengths lie make her use of the American violist equally compelling. Better still are the tracks where she brings the two players together, though this is not the first time they've collaborated. Still, on the gentle "Laura's Waltz," for The Glass Menagerie the two orbit around each other in both solo features, and marvelous unison playing supported by mandolinist Aris Dimitriadis, while Kashkashian contributes one of the concert's most haunting moments in her a cappella solo on "AdagioLandscape in the Mist," after which Garbarek and Christopoulos once again find themselves playing in tandem on a version that transcends Elegy of the Uprooting's, where the oboist was the sole lead voice.
Few composers of film and theater music are afforded the opportunity to explore their work through recordings for a single label; that ECM and producer Manfred Eicher continue to afford Karaindrou such singular freedom is what leads to successes like Concert in Athens. If it's a career highpoint even more compelling than the retrospective Elegy of the Uprooting, it simply means that Karaindrou is still capable of surprise, and as she nears the midpoint of her eighth decade on the planet, that's no mean feat.
Requiem for Willy Loman; Eternity Theme; Closed Roads; Waiting; Voyage; Invocation; Tango of Love; Tom’s Theme; Laura’s Waltz; Adagio; After Memory; Farewell Theme; Seeking Theme; Nostalgia Song; Waltz of the Rain; Adagio for Saxophone; Dance; Requiem for Willy Loman, var.