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CD Review

Christos Hatzis

Byzantium

  • Byzantium 1
  • The Mega4 Meta4 2
  • The Temptation of St. Anthony 3
  • Crucifix 4
1-4 Christos Hatzis, electronics
1 Libby Van Cleve, oboe
2 Steven Dann, viola
4 Chari Polatos, singer
1,4 Exultate Chamber Singers/John Tuttle
CMC Centrediscs CD 4693 DDD 65:21
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Hatzis, a Greek-born Canadian, is on the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto. He studied composition at the Eastman School of Music, and received his Ph.D. from SUNY Buffalo. His teachers included Samuel Adler, Joseph Schwantner, and Morton Feldman. According to this CD's program notes, Feldman called Hatzis as "one of the top Ph.D. candidates in the history of the department" at SUNY Buffalo. That's high praise, especially when one considers the fact that Hatzis's music sounds nothing like Feldman's!

Hatzis writes electroacoustic music, or what used to be called "electronic music." Computers and tape recorders do play a central role in his compositions, but he has not given up on human performers, as three of these four pieces show. The Mega4 Meta4 is a fantasy for viola and electronics. Similarly, Byzantium is practically a three-movement oboe concerto with choral underpinnings. Crucifix can be heard as a wild piece of musical theater, with the theatrical element both inspired and realized by the singer. Certainly there's nothing mechanically cold and forbidding about any of this music. It's frequently unsettling, but that has more to do with the messages (at least as perceived by me) than with the medium.

My esteemed Fanfare colleague Mike Silverton pooh-poohed this disc a couple of years ago, referring to its contents as "vulgar," and dismissing them as kitschy and overly sweet. While it's true that Hatzis doesn't seem to have much use for precious understatement, he chooses his targets with assurance and lets the arrows fly. The composer describes the association between western and non-western elements in his music as "cultural counterpoint." In this, he resembles Dariush Dolat-Shahi, another composer of beguiling and approachable electroacoustic music.

Some of the disc's highlights are: 1) the beautiful interplay between "the" Albinoni Adagio and sonic snapshots of urban conflict in The Mega4 Meta4; 2) the subtle use of pure-sounding choral textures in Byzantium and Crucifix, and the way that these textures melt in and out of the (considerably more exotic) surrounding material; 3) Chari Polatos as the outrageous – and I mean that in the best sense of the word – celebrant in Crucifix; and 4) the burbling good-humor of The Temptation of Saint Anthony. Despite the fact that this last piece was inspired by Max Ernst's painting of the same title, I didn't find it at all frightening, except for the perversion of some choice Elizabethan sound bytes.

The human performances are warm and wonderful, and the performers are to be commended for their support of music such as this. Polatos, who was killed in a car crash shortly after he completed his role in Crucifix, is the disc's dedicatee.

Copyright © 1999, Raymond Tuttle

Trumpet