Eleni Karaindrou: Tous des oiseaux (ECM New Series 2634)

2634 X

Eleni Karaindrou
Tous des oiseaux

Savina Yannatou voice
Alexandros Botinis violoncello
Stella Gadedi flute
Vangelis Christopoulos oboe
Yannis Evangelatos bassoon
Dinos Hadjiiordanou accordion
Aris Dimitriadis mandolin
Maria Bildea harp
Eleni Karaindrou piano
Sokratis Sinopoulos Constantinople lyra, lute
Nikos Paraoulakis ney
Stefanos Dorbarakis kanonaki
Giorgos Kontoyannis percussion, Cretan lyra
String Orchestra
Argyro Seira concertmaster
Recorded October 2017 and January 2018 at Studio Sierra, Athens
Recording engineer: Giorgos Karyotis
Edited and mixed September 2018 by Manfred Eicher and Giorgos Karyotis
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: January 25, 2019

“Why little birdy don’t you sing
As you used to sing before?
Oh, how could I,
They had my wings severed.”

In her eleventh album for ECM, Greek composer Eleni Karaindrou gifts us with some of her most poignant music yet. Poignant because, on a political level, it intersects with issues deeply relevant to today’s social climate and, while on a personal level shifting from the Theo Angelopoulos era that quietly ushered her artistry into global imagination.

Music for the play Tous des oiseaux by Lebanese-Canadian writer Wajdi Mouawad is subject of the album’s first half. As is characteristic of Karaindrou, it’s more than incidental but a living part of the dramaturgical landscape. And despite a wide array of instruments, including string orchestra, lyra, kanonaki, oboe, harp, flute, accordion, and cello, the mood is as intimate as it should be for a play centering on the love shared between an Arab American and a German-born Jew. The latter’s Zionist father, David, despite his anger over the relationship, must deal with the revelation of his own Palestinian birth, thereby sending him into a vicious spiral of identity politics.

The drone in which opener “The Wind of War” rests is an accurate representation of that spiritual unrest, the symbolic backdrop against which this story unfolds. As with any history, if you zoom back, it seems to unify in texture. But get close enough to regard individual lives within it, and suddenly conflicts of human error become obvious. Vocalist Savina Yannatou, familiar to ECM listeners as a bandleader in her own right, sings wordlessly, here as also in “Encounter” and “The Impossible Journey”—a voice still voiceless, because it is heard from afar. Even in Yannatou’s unaccompanied “Lament,” a 13th-century Greek song, she cannot pull words from their graves. As one of three solos, along with “Towards the Unknown” for flute and “Je ne me consolerai jamais” for cello, it consigns the fate of an entire people, grazed by breath and weaponry of chance.

In “The Dark Secret” and “David’s Dream,” both for string orchestra, individuals vie subtly for attention, but are drowned by collective trauma. Time becomes timeless, a variation on a theme, just familiar enough to feel real yet off-kilter enough to illuminate mysteries of waking life. “The Confession” adds to that milieu the beat of a drum: reality calling. Like the intersection of oboe and harp in “Why?” or the lyra, ney, and kanonaki of “Between Two Worlds,” it’s a dance without ground. A love divided by self.

Music for Iranian auteur Payman Maadi’s film Bomb, A Love Story constitutes the second half. As the first film Karaindrou has scored since Angelopoulos’s death, it’s a bittersweet milestone. Using the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to set in motion its narrative of self-searching, the film shows us not only that the personal is political, but also that the political is personal. Karaindrou’s soundtrack mirrors that philosophy by foregrounding the bassoon of Yannis Evangelatos, whose instrument—a marginal one in the woodwind family—echoes the marginality of the film’s characters. In this instance, the orchestra serves as omniscient narrator, sending shimmers of hope through “Love Theme,” in which the oboe of Vangelis Christopoulos and the piano of Karaindrou herself fall into shadow: dreams never realized. If not for that, “The Waltz of Hope” might not come across so much as a fantasy and “Lonely Lives” as truth. Further sentiments of travel (“Mitra’s Theme – Walking in Tehran”) and innocence (“Love’s First Call”) touch and part across maps of indifference. Which is why in the “Reconciliation Theme” we find the most instruments deployed at once, recalling the richness of Angelopoulos’s character studies. Only now that mist has been lifted, exposing figures whose every feature cries with vivid detail.

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