POLIS Ensemble – Calanda (Album Review)

Written by Sotiris Bekas

The carols, a very old form of folk song and a rural social custom associated with major calendar holidays remain popular even in our days, despite the urbanization of the population to a large extent. Upon hearing them, most people recall the image of children singing from neighborhood to neighborhood, illuminating the early mornings of Christmas and New Year’s Eve or, a few months later, Lazarus Sunday. However, behind the dominant memory lies their musical and historical value, as the carols carry very ancient melodies lost in the depths of centuries, presenting strong musicological interest. The stories they tell also describe a much older societal structure.

These are the elements highlighted by the members of the musical ensemble POLIS Ensemble in their recent release titled “Calanda,” featuring carols from all over Greece. As they aptly state, “Each carol carries within it all the essence of folk craftsmanship, both in the melodies and in the words. Listening to our album entitled Calanda, one discovers how many different scales, how much variety of rhythms, how many different and distinct performative styles are hidden in the musical cultures of Hellenism; … But also the lyrics! Medieval elements, with noblewomen and masters, and at the same time, primeval dionysianism. An effortless mix of praises and wishes, ancient Greek words and idioms of all kinds, words of unadulterated love and clear cunning…”

Viewing it through this perspective and, of course, relying on their high musical proficiency, the POLIS Ensemble delivers a commendable album with carols from all over Greece, presenting interest in the musical interpretation and the musical ideas proposed at various points, such as in the “New Year’s Carols” (performed by Evangelia Chaldeaki), the “Sygkathistos from Eastern Rumelia,” and the “Pentozali with Mantura” (musical interpretation by Nikos Paraoulakis). However, the flow of the musical material is also interesting, as it unfolds into a musical journey that allows the listener to travel both chronologically (based on the mentioned holidays) and geographically to various parts of Greece through the vehicle of the carols.

The POLIS Ensemble consists of Stefanos Dorbarakis (kanun, vocals), George Kontogiannis (lyra), Alexandros Kapsokavadias (politiko laouto, vocals), Manousos Klapakis (percussion), Nikos Paraoulakis (ney, kaval, flute, mantura), and Theodoros Kouelis (double bass).

The songs of the album “Calanda” are interpreted by Alexandros Kapsokavadias, Stefanos Dorbarakis, Nektarios S. Antoniou, Petros Kouloumis, Dionysia Papouli, Roula Tsernou, Eirene, Kostis Abyssinos, Eirini Derempei, Evangelia Chaldeaki, Yiannis Michailidis, Thodoris Mermigkas, the Schola Cantorum, the KEMFA Choir, and the Choir of the Girls’ School “Theomitor.”

Moreover, the album is a co-production of Nektarios S. Antoniou and the POLIS Ensemble.

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