Cilia Petridou: The Mystery of Christmas Greek Kalanda (carols)

review petridou greek carols x1 cong

This is a collection of songs for the festive season although, as it doesn’t sound “festive”, you get year-round value. The lyrics are Christmas-related but sung in Greek (translations provided).

The sleeve/Press notes say that there is a tradition among the Greek people of the singing of carols (kalanda) on Christmas Eve. The notes reference St Basil: in Greek tradition, he brings gifts to children on 1st January (St Basil’s Day), and families serve bread baked with a coin inside, and visit the homes of friends and relatives, to sing new year carols. (St Nicholas’s feast day is 6th December and he does not carry any special association with gifts).

To be honest, the composer saves the reviewer any effort. The carols have been composed by Greek-Cypriot composer Cilia Petridou — the Press notes say they are more art-song — and in her chatty and friendly sleeve notes, she says she has been “very lucky” with the singers, all sopranos, Jenni Harper, Lesley-Jane Rogers, Alison Smart. The sopranos each take a number of solo carols and form a trio for the last two. Pianist Sarah Down accompanies.

Petridou explains that the words are mostly her own, which allowed her to adapt the text to musical complexities “that should provide a satisfying challenge to the ear of listeners familiar with classical music” — although the music is more satisfying and less challenging.

“Once assimilated, (it) should ease the path towards a better understanding and appreciation of that genre for those less familiar with it,” she adds. “Once initiated, the listener can derive so much satisfaction from classical music.”

And it’s true, after hearing the clear and simple tones of Harper, Rogers and Smart, you might try some more forbidding vocals.

The music sounds traditional and the composer explains that nostalgia plays a major part. She talks as much about her father as the music; he drew the sleeve art and the drawing “became a trigger which caused so many memories to come flooding back — in particular memories filled with the joy we both felt at Christmas time and memories of our shared passion for the artistic paths we had chosen,” she writes.

It may not sound Christmassy to non-Greek ears but celebrating the family is part of Christmas and this is lovely music to do that to. And, as she says, novices to classical music who might be deterred by phrases like “art-song” will enjoy it.

Out on Divine Art, DDA 25186.

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