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Blistering music on new CD Calliope Tsoupaki

The Greek-Dutch Calliope Tsoupaki (1963) strings one beauty to another. In 2008, she broke through for good with her impressive Lucas Passion, in which she organically incorporates Greek Orthodox chant into an otherwise modern idiom. Six years later, she scored equally high with the oratorio composed for the Netherlands Bach Society Oidipus at Kolonos. And recently released the CD Triptychon on the German label Cybele, with a triptych for string quartet - supplemented in the second movement by clarinet.

Each part of the triptych has its own title and mood, but together they form a coherent and compelling whole. It opens with Mercury, named after the planet closest to the sun but hardest to see. Aptly chosen, as it is full of mercurial antics in the very highest registers, backed by a drone, a fond of reclining, low sounds.

Angel descends

Slowly descending and ascending glissandi are intersected with sharply incited, short outbursts, whose gliding tones recall the mewing of a cat or the screeching of seagulls. Then the four strings chase each other with bouncing motifs, in a driving rhythm. Out of this tangle of lines, one voice detaches itself, initiating a descending line from the most hurried height, like an angel descending from heaven, or a ray of sunlight suddenly flashing through the clouds.

Goals Quartet
Doelen Quartet (c) Louis Haagman

Tsoupaki derived the title of the ensuing volume from a verse in the Psalms of David: Lychnos tis posi mou (Your word is a lamp to my feet, a light on my path). She composed this in 2005, commissioned by Festival Musica Sacra. In this, the four strings are reinforced by a clarinet, which joins the argument almost inaudibly. The piece is carried by a gentle pulse of repeated notes, at times stroked, at other times plucked, like a heartbeat. The clarinet plays lyrical melodies, rising slowly to heaven, or returning to earth.

Clarinet as booster

The strings flutter around this, answering his call with similar motifs, or seeming to scurry away. The voices are so subtly intertwined that it is not always clear which instrument produces which sound. The faster passages breathe the atmosphere of Greek folk music, with the clarinet as the booster. At other times, with carried, recitative lines, this instrument recalls the cantor's hymn in Greek Orthodox music.

Arjan Woudenberg
Arjan Woudenberg (c) Hans van der Woerd

The third and final part is called Eothinòn, after the Greek Orthodox prayer of the same name said just before sunrise. It was created at the request of the Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ. As an experiment, it ordered a 'growth quartet' - a string quartet that would come into being gradually over the 2012-13 season, during several concerts. The premiere of the integral piece took place in May 2013.

There is absolutely no question that Eothinòn was composed in fits and starts, as it were. It does differ slightly in style from the previous movements. The musical fabric is denser, the sound darker and the rhythm more exhilarating. Sometimes faint echoes of the electronic string quartet can be heard Black Angels By George Crumb.

Claustrophobic roar

The ending in particular is unsettling: ferocious whirling, claustrophobic roar in the lows resembles a war machine, trying to prevent someone or something from escaping. In the CD booklet, Tsoupaki himself refers to Persephone, who must force her way from the underworld to earth every spring.

Everything about this release hits the mark. The music shimmers from A to Z, thanks in part to the highly driven and nuanced performance by the Doelen Quartet and clarinettist Arjan Woudenberg. The recording is so clear, it is as if the musicians were sitting in the room with you. - Buy that CD!


Thea Derks

Thea Derks studied English and Musicology. In 1996, she completed her studies in musicology cum laude at the University of Amsterdam. She specialises in contemporary music and in 2014 published the critically acclaimed biography 'Reinbert de Leeuw: man or melody'. Four years on, she completed 'An ox on the roof: modern music in vogevlucht', aimed especially at the interested layperson. You buy it here: In 2020, the 3rd edition of the Reinbertbio appeared,with 2 additional chapters describing the period 2014-2020. These also appeared separately as Final Chord.View Author posts

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