International Record Review

The Greek pianist and composer Panayiotis Demopoulos has taken full advantage of an enviable array of teachers (indeed, he lists 11 in his biography, which include James MacMillan, Harrison Birtwistle, Jonathan Harvey and Murray McLachlan). I might add that, as well as engaging in a wide range of musicological pursuits that take in microtonal music and critical theory, Demopoulos is a perplexingly impressive polymath. In addition to being a noted enthusiast in fields that span poetry and European cinema, at the time this recording was made (2003) he coached the Dynamis Kozani basketball club. While considerable athleticism pervades his performances on this recital (originally on Dunelm), I am glad to report that ‘fouls’ are kept to an absolute minimum (and indeed, no indiscreet ‘dribbling’ can be heard anywhere on the recording!). I was taken by a number of features on the disc, which I might sum up as a disarming assembly of repertoire, a naturally captured, almost ‘live’ appearance to the performances, and the short, intrepid works by Demopoulos himself with which the recital concludes.

The programme begins with four works by Liszt, the opener being the late, far-reaching miniature Nuages gris (more on the relevance of that later). All of these he handles with care, resisting any impulse towards hardness of tone (an especial hazard in Unstern !) and coaxing some veiled lyricism from the opening to Valée d’Obermann . The pianist is capable of great atmosphere, as well as projection, and combines well-paced expressiveness and a lively personality to bind this more developed work together coherently.

In Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 30, Demopoulos is also on good form, demystifying the complex structures with confident aplomb and frequently revealing an individual voice, particularly in the lengthy treatise that constitutes the final movement. From works that were predominantly the product of their composers’ final years, we move to Demopoulos’s Tetraktys , the four short variations from which it is comprised springing from various treatments of the first three notes from Nuages gris . Much of this music is aleatoric and experimental in complexion: ‘Tetraktys’ means an ancient symbol – ‘an archaic, ontological notion of Pythagoreans’ – we are told. Beneath the immediate surface, which can be difficult to peel away initially, is some attractive and interesting music. Resisting attempts to pigeon-hole the style, I will suffice to draw attention to animated contrapuntal inclinations, a daring employment of registral leaps alongside some darker, intense colours to offset the wittier explosions.

There is therefore a great deal to clarify Demopoulos’s choice of repertoire here: the strong Beethoven-Liszt link and corresponding maturity of expression, the thematic connection between the opening work by Liszt and the closing one by Demopoulos (to produce an even more New Age Nuages than Liszt could have conceived of) and the use of variation form to capture a cathartic outpouring of ideas in both the Beethoven and Demopoulos work. The pianist’s own booklet notes are eloquently constructed.

—Mark Tanner