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  • Jonathan Widran

Danaë Xanthe Vlasse, Mythologies

At the tail end of her official bio which illuminates the breadth, depth and international reach of her extraordinary multi-award winning career in music, Danaë Xanthe Vlasse states her powerful ongoing artistic mission: “My need to create is so profound that I would keep writing even if no one ever heard a note of my music, but my creative goals are very precise in what I hope to bring to listeners: Beauty, Truth & Elevation!”

The French born contemporary classical composer pianist shares and embodies these grand qualities and a multitude of others with breathtaking grace and transcendent vision on Mythologies, an endlessly fascinating, truly epic collection of original instrumental and vocal works inspired by various Ancient Greek myths – some whose names and stories are at least vaguely familiar to us (“Poseidon & Odysseus”), others lesser known (“Penelope” of Ithaca, wife of King Odysseus”), still others that represent concepts that we can relate to and apply to our daily lives (“Nepenthe,” “Metamorphoses”). Danae draws on her deep well of life experience, previous artistry and lifelong passions to create expansive pieces that pay homage to the Greek side of her heritage. Her father Marcus (née Vlassopoulos) grew up on the island of Ithaca, once ruled by Homer’s legendary hero, Odysseus.

As stated in the project’s voluminous press materials, Mythologies is designed to provoke the listener into contemplating “long-standing cultural concepts, such as idolized heroism, divine power, crisis of faith and morality, and the junction of fate and free will.” While that speaks to the intense ambition of the artist, the true joy of the immersive listening experience comes not from extrapolating cultural and spiritual themes but in appreciating the dynamics of the large ensemble Danae’s brought together to share the multi-faceted narrative.

The most prominent of these are sopranos Hila Plitmann and Sangeeta Kaur, whose soaring and hypnotic operatic vocals intertwine majestically throughout, forming the richly textured emotional core of the dramatic, ethereal “Sirens,” which also features the elegant and increasingly intense angelic piano musings of Brendan White; “Poseidon & Odysseus,” a lyrical seafaring adventure featuring Danae on piano, Wouter Kellerman on contrabass, bass and soprano flutes and Nadeem Majdalany on percussion; the dreamy, meditative “Penelope,” also featuring Danae and Kellerman; and “Euterpe’s Lament,” a darkly haunting piece penned during the pandemic and reflecting its loneliness and anxiety via the masterful combination of Virginie d’Avezac de Castéra’s viola and Éru Matsumoto’s cello.

Adding to the overall sense of mythical magic and ever-expanding melodic, harmonic and rhythmic artistry, the set closes with a lengthier, more immersive version of “Sirens” entitled “Sirens (Cinematic),” which deftly lives up to its refreshed title with extended stretches of Brendan White’s piano and more pronounced percussion elements by Majalany and Emilio D. Miller.

The two instrumental pieces on Mythologies may lack the heartrending one two punch of Plitmann and Kaur, yet are equally lovely and impactful – and an integral part of Danae’s intriguing journey of self discovery and illumination. The contemplative, sparsely arranged “Nepenthe,” representing a delicate journey from sorrow into hope (a perfect metaphor for our current global situation), features Matsumoto on cello, Lili Haydn on violin and Robert Thies on piano.

The project as a whole was clearly fashioned as an ensemble date, but at times it’s as if Danae is slightly subordinate to her compositions whose emotions are more strongly conveyed by her musical cohorts. The aptly named “Metamorphoses,” a musical homage to the Hellenistic practice of evolving myths through collections of poetry, is perhaps the most personal, vulnerable work on the collection – a multi-movement solo piano piece that showcases both the intense soul depth and whimsical musings of the artist stripped down to her singular expression.

Listen to Mythologies here: Spotify – Mythologies


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