The Copenhagen-based chamber ensemble KOTTOS claims to play “music from a place that never existed”. Consisting of Bjarke Mogensen (piano accordion), Pernille Petersen (various recorders), Josefine Opsahl (cello), and in this recording Christos Farmakis (bouzouki – a Greek guitar-like instrument), the group has arranged folksongs and dances by composers from various parts of the Northern Hemisphere. While their sound is ethnic in a general sense, the juxtaposition of specific sonorities allows KOTTOS to be equally at home in music from Greece, Russia, Hungary, Norway and the British Isles.
Most of these selections are familiar in orchestral guise. Nikos Skalkottas orchestrated his 36 Greek Dances (of which KOTTOS give us four); Anatoly Liadov his Russian Folk Songs, Op. 58, Edvard Grieg his Norwegian Dances, while two selections by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (including Song of India from Sadko) are orchestral favourites. Vaughan Williams’s Six Studies on English Folk Songs were written originally for cello and piano: Opsahl’s lovely playing is prominent here.
Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances, Sz.56 and Jacob Gade’s ubiquitous Tango Jalousie have been heard in every arrangement imaginable. To my mind, this mixed group’s vital performances go to the heart of both pieces in an earthier way than even Bartók’s orchestration, or the many band arrangements over the years of Jalousie. The odd one out in the program seems to be Vivaldi’s version of La Folia (arranged by the whole group), but all these composers are odd ones out in a way. And after all, La Folia was a Baroque-era dance hit.
Farmakis’s fiery bouzouki propels the Skalkottas Dances, Petersen’s recorder adds a dash of ethereal ambrosia to Rimsky-Korsakov’s exoticism, and Gade’s Tango allows Mogensen’s accordion to shine in the best possible Gypsy tradition. Vaughan Williams’ studies are unexpectedly successful in transcription. This recital shows true diversity at work.