Greece may be a financial basket-case, but its cultural wealth remains boundless, and an instrument like the three-string Cretan lyra seems to offer an immediate link to the dawn of European civilisation. In fact this ancestor of the violin family may be only 1100 years old, but its sound, which can be both sweet and primal, somehow arches back to the world of Sophocles and Plato.
In Melbourne’s 10-piece Xylouris Ensemble the lyra is played by Nikos Xylouris and by the leader (and lute specialist) George Xylouris. Other featured instruments include mandolin, violin, flute and cello, on both original and traditional material. Often the music has a stately gravitas without becoming ponderous, and the improvising and singing ensure an emotive force shadows that singular elegance.
Over the band’s 24-year life Xylouris has sought to expand rather than be slavish to the tradition, including incorporating overtly Irish elements, so the music spans the eastern and western extremes of European culture, with the Australian perspective a third dimension and that deep well of time a fourth.