Intuition Classics' Mikis Theodorakis: First Songs is a labor of love for producer Asteris Kutulas, who had managed to locate several of Theodorakis' earliest efforts, most of which are lost forever, and sought to have these recorded in Theodorakis' own voice before he was no longer able to sing them. These pieces range from 1938, when Theodorakis was a bright 13 year old brimming with enthusiasm and musical talent, and the early 1950s when he was a war-hardened journalist whose idealism had dimmed through years of living underground, first during the Greek resistance and then in the Civil War that followed. Theodorakis was closing in on the age of 75 when he made these recordings; however, his voice is in excellent shape, only slightly wizened from the familiar tone it had when he made his famous "troubadour" recordings in the 1960s. Henning Schmiedt arranges the music in a centrist European pop style, and although the intention is to provide it with an upbeat and contemporary sound, at times it is in clear conflict with the material, such as in the Caribbean styled rhumba rhythm used "Pio Poli Ki Apo Ta Matia," a song written in 1939. A couple of other singers -- including, on one track, Jocelyn B. Smith -- step into the solo spot when the range or subject of a given piece is more suited to a woman's voice than Theodorakis' husky baritone. A children's choir also carries some of the music, and this is a nice touch, especially in songs dating from Theodorakis' adolescence.
It is a pity that an accompaniment in keeping with the historical era of this music could not have been employed in Mikis Theodorakis: First Songs. However, it is also true that some of the very innovations Theodorakis introduced into Greek music led to the eventual downfall of its historical popular style, dominated by compound time signatures, bouzouki, tarogato, and Turkish rhythm instruments. Nevertheless, the songs themselves are of very high quality, and the texts are provided in English and German so that there is no mystery about their content or meaning. Moreover, just listening to Theodorakis sing these early tunes is a little like what made Frank Sinatra's albums of duets so fulfilling; here is a senior master, both reflecting on his work and attempting to surpass his own marks as a performer. In addition, like Sinatra, the accompaniment is not ideal, but up to the professional standard of the present, and Theodorakis mainly concentrates on delivering something close to his mean in terms of delivery. Intuition Classics' Mikis Theodorakis: First Songs is also of interest in that it encompasses both the first and the last in terms of Theodorakis' creative output; devotees of his work will doubtless want to experience it.