Album Reviews: John Psathas and Manos Achalinotopoulos

By William Dart

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John Psathas, Helix (Rattle)
Rating: 5/5

Manos Achalinotopoulos, Flight on Light (Rattle, both through Ode Records)
Rating: 4/5

Verdict: "The chamber music side of the high-powered John Psathas contrasts with the mystical world of colleague Manos Achalinotopoulos."

John Psathas. Photo / Supplied
John Psathas. Photo / Supplied

John Psathas has been one of the heroes of New Zealand music for some years now. He famously scored the Athens Olympics, has taken Little Bushman into symphony hall and, most recently, has provided what sounds like some pretty hip music for Mike Wallis' western Good for Nothing.

Helix is an attractive collection of chamber music that offers the chance to get up close and personal with Psathas. The insinuating Songs for Simon, with Psathas himself looping and sequencing behind Donald Nicolson's undulating piano lines, woos one in; NZTrio's shattering title piece, with a Tarantismo movement that almost rivals the recent Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra version for firing power, guarantees goosebumps.

We have waited too long to hear Psathas' transcription of Kartsigar which the New Zealand String Quartet has been taking around the world. It turns out to be a fascinating exploration of that elusive world between song and dance, the perfect complement to his earlier Abhisheka.

The best comes last. Waiting: Still is a lulling mood piece that features Nicolson's piano laced with the composer's own gamelan sonorities - a timely and deserved tribute to Jack Body, teacher, friend and inspirational force on the music scene.

Psathas is also prominent on Manos Achalinotopoulos' new Flight on Light album. The Greek's clarino playing swept the Auckland Town Hall audience off its feet a few weeks ago in Psathas' The New Zeibekiko and the new disc presents what he describes as seven stories, each in a continuous stream. These are veritable cries of the soul, with Achalinotopoulos' clarinet catching the colours of many other instruments, both ancient and modern.

If Psathas' wash of synthesised sound around Achalinotopoulos in Heliotrope is not to my taste, then it is easier to be caught up when Greek and Kiwi musicians make something of a party behind Iris Flight.

The most effective collaboration is with David Downes, and Crystalline Athos almost manages to suggest that clarinet and band are up on stage together.

- NZ Herald

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