Since her debut with ECM in 1991, composer Eleni Karaindrou has consistently delivered recordings of unquestionable beauty and quality. All noteworthy are her scores for Theo Angelopoulos' films, 2005's grand-scale retrospective Elegy of the Uprooting, and 2010's Concert in Athens, and especially the remarkable Trojan Women, from 2002, a score to accompany Euripides' play in collaboration with stage director Antonis Antypas. Medea, another of the classical Greek dramatist's works, marks their second recorded collaboration for ECM. Karaindrou's music is delivered by a small group: instrumentation includes Constantinople lute and lyra, clarinets, violincello, ney, bendir, and santour. They accompany soloists and/or a 15-voice female choir. The first four pieces here are all instrumental, spare, spatial, warm, and foreboding. "Ceremonial Procession," with bendir, three clarinets, and santour, foreshadows the ensuing tragedy. "On the Way to Exile" brings lute, lyra, santour, bendir, and cello mournfully together; they evoke the sadness that follows betrayal, yet there is something quietly sinister in it, too. Karaindrou's is the first voice we hear in "Medea's Lament 1." Accompanied by the ensemble, she allows Giorgos Cheimonas' modern adaptation of Euripides' words to come from her belly, moving slowly through the stages of human grief -- before giving way to rage. The episodic instrumental music of "Woman in Mourning" introduces her second lament. It gives way to "Loss," before the choir makes their entrance in "Backwards to Their Sources," which announces Medea's return to divine form in order to deliver Jason a physical manifestation of cosmic payback. They act as narrators for the vocal music that remains. Though there is tension in Karaindrou's music, it never erupts; it unfolds. "Love's Great Malevolence" is funereal in tempo as it melds folk sources, classical traditions, and a melody that straddles modernity and antiquity. Violence is swollen into an emotional warning as the choir, accompanied by the added weight of the bendir, opens the way for the voice of soloist Penelope Sergounioti to offer "Do Not Kill Your Children" in vain. Early on, its melody recalls a 20th century rembetika. In "All Hope Is Lost," the choir narrates seemingly from the divine spaces between heaven, earth, and hell, before soloist Sotiria Rouvoli delivers Medea's taunt of Jason and the commencement of her own horrific act. In "Silence," the closer, the band delivers a dirge that undergirds the choir's final lament -- not a moral so much as a statement of sorrow and confusion. Karaindrou's Medea is poetic and fierce, utterly gripping, and beautiful in its earthiness and deliberate lack of dramatic grandeur. The Mediterranean folk traditions employed in her music offer a striking evocation of historical and contemporary terms. Her interpretation serves not only the play, but is ultimately a taut and timeless metaphor for the unanswerable questions and bewilderment with which we react to unspeakable tragedy.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek