Eleni Karaindrou: Elegy of the Uprooting

Elegy of the Uprooting is not Eleni Karaindrou's Symphony of a Thousand, regardless of the impression left by the massive orchestral and choir forces adorning the two-disc set's cover photograph. Seated at her piano, Karaindrou seems almost dwarfed by the collective magnitude of the 110 musicians but long-time devotees of the Greek composer's music needn't worry: Elegy of the Uprooting is wholly free of bombast. If anything, the concert document (recorded March 27, 2005 at Megaron, Athens) is both a culmination and overview of this remarkable composer's oeuvre, with selections from her previous ECM releases newly embroidered into what she calls “a scenic cantata.”

Because the albums are such fully integrated works characterized by recurring themes (specifically soundtrack pieces composed for films by Theo Angelopoulos, Lefteris Xanthopoulos, and Christoforos Christofis and music created for a 2001 production of Euripides' play Trojan Women), one might expect that reconfiguring their component parts into a large-scale concert presentation would prove jarring; surprisingly, the pieces comfortably cohere into a new whole that's ultimately more homogeneous than not. Even when an extreme shift occurs, like the segue from the Traditional Instruments ensemble (santouri, ney, kanonaki, et al.) in “For the Phrygian Land Vast Mourning” to the solo piano setting “By the Sea,” Karaindrou's distinctive composing signature seamlessly bridges whatever gap separates them. Another unifier is the music itself which, driven by themes of loss, exodus, and exile, is predominantly somber.

Typically, the individual pieces are performed by small groupings drawn from the larger entity, so the selections lose none of the intimacy heard on the original recordings; furthermore, many of the key contributors to Karaindrou's past releases—oboist Vangelis Christopoulos, French horn player Vangelis Skouras, singer Maria Farantouri, clarinet player Nikos Guinos—re-appear, lending the new work a satisfying familiarity. In the opening “Prayer,” the mournful cry of Socratis Sinopoulos's Constantinople lyra meshes perfectly with the hushed choir and delicate French horn and accordion accents while the Constantinople lyra and oboe partake in a melancholy duet in “Dance.” But as splendid as such moments are, isolating them seems misguided when virtually every one of the thirty-eight pieces offers rapture of one kind or another. (Trainspotters take note: Elegy of the Uprooting includes previously unrecorded material from Tonia Marketaki's The Price of Love and Jules Dassin's production of Chekhov's The Seagull.)

Words like poignant, introspective, ponderous, ravishing, and elegiac spring to mind while listening to this music. Beyond the impeccable taste in arranging is Karaindrou's gift for melody. She's capable of wringing piercing emotion from what might seem to be the simplest of melodies but, listened to more closely, reveals itself to be a profound distillation of timeless folk themes. Put simply, any listeners unfamiliar with her eloquent music-making should deprive themselves no longer.

December 2006