May Roosevelt: Music to the Poetry of Dinos Christianopoulos

May Roosevelt's electronic-classical music appeals on many levels. The Thessaloniki, Greece-based composer-instrumentalist is a theremin player, for one, and its distinctive sound is naturally central to this Ianos successor to 2011's self-released Haunted. Her piano-based compositions also are infused by the traditions of Greek folk music and Byzantine church hymns, which similarly lend her music a highly personalized quality. She's also someone who brings an above-average degree of imagination to her work, the new recording a perfect case in point as it features ten settings inspired by the writings of Dinos Christianopoulos, with the poet himself on hand to recite the texts. It's an inspired and original idea that's well-served by deluxe packaging that displays watercolour portraits of Roosevelt and Christianopoulos on both the case and a fold-out poster, which also displays the song's texts.

Throughout the album, Roosevelt accompanies Christianopoulos's recitation with haunting, instrumentally rich backdrops. With respect to Christianopoulos, his is an older man's voice, one wizened and deepened by life experience. In some songs (e.g., the sixth and ninth), he appears briefly, and consequently the piece functions more as a showcase for Roosevelt's arranging and composing gifts; in others (e.g., the eighth), he's present throughout, his voice standing out as a noticeable contrast to the theremin-rich backing.

In a typical setting, Roosevelt augments her dramatic piano playing with haunting theremin melodies, the instrument's signature warble expanded upon with ululating string-like textures and occasional accents of percussion. Collectively, the elements produce a dream-like effect, especially when the theremin is part of the mix. Dance rhythms enliven certain songs, such that the fifth sometimes feels on the verge of turning into a piano-based romp. The emotionally charged ninth, by comparison, opts for deeply felt melancholy. As one would expect, the theremin is treated as a legitimate musical instrument in this context, rather than a gimmick as is sometimes the case.

Normally a CD of thirty-one-minutes duration would be deemed too short, but in this case it feels like a complete statement, with Music to the Poetry of Dinos Christianopoulos making its well-argued case with clarity and concision. The release would have been more satisfying, however, had the Greek texts been supplemented with English translations. Having no command of the Greek language, I haven't the faintest idea of what Christianopoulos's texts are about, and, though the recording can certainly be enjoyed on purely sonic terms, the experience would be enhanced by having some grasp of its textual content. Apparently his poetry is both confessional in tone and suffused with existential angst, but it's impossible to tell if one isn't conversant in Greek.

July 2013