This article originally appeared in Issue 40:5 (May/June 2017) of Fanfare Magazine.
The indefatigably prolific Dinos Constantinides has written so much music that there are many instruments that his solo works for them would fill up one or more CDs. (The music for violin, his own instrument, would require at least several CDs). The present disc features his flute music, and I have no idea if it contains all of his solo and chamber music written for that instrument, but at the very least, we are given a generous sampling of it. The present recital also gives a glimpse of this gifted Greek-American composer in his facility in writing in disparate styles.
The recital opens with two works for unaccompanied flute, A Little Song for Iwona and Celestial Musings. The former opens quietly with a singing line that to my mind evokes a shepherd piping, serenading his sheep. After an opening in the lower register of the flute, similar material is heard in its upper register. Celestial Musings is more modern in style, even to the point of incorporating pitch bends, flutter-tonguing, and the like. It’s not atonal by any means, but shifts around among various tonal centers a good bit and also makes more technical demands of the player. The two pieces form a diptych of sorts, complementing each other as they do. Both pieces were written for the performer, Iwona Glinka, as a thank you for her willingness to perform music by composers at Louisiana State University, at which Constantinides is the Boyd Professor of Composition.
Ballade for Flute and Guitar was written for an LSU performance of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in 1969. Given its purpose, it’s not surprising that this brief work conjures up a Renaissance ambience. Fantasia for Solo Flute is one of a series of thusly titled works for various solo instruments, all written in an A-B-A form. Tonality here is free, and there are some rapid gestures in the flute protruding through the wandering and soaring line. The rhythmic activity in the “B” section picks up considerably, before reverting to the opening material, which closes quietly by asking a musical question that remains unanswered. Hellenic Dance for flute, cello, and guitar is one of the livelier works on the present disc. Its infectious tunes and dance-like ambience pay homage to the composer’s country of birth. An introspective section at the mid-point of the piece seems nostalgic to my ears, as though Constantinides were thinking of life, friends, and family back in Greece. The piece ends with an imaginative repeated chromatically descending line in the cello.
In his Songs for Epirus for flute and piano, Constantinides again looks back to his homeland: These four songs were inspired by the poetry of Chrysanthi Zitsea and the landscapes of Epirus, the city of the composer’s birth. One unusual feature of its third song, “Delphic Hymn,” is its incorporation of sounds that resemble the strings of the piano being stuck while they’re damped. I don’t know if this is actually how these sounds are produced, but they’re quite haunting in the context of the flute and (normal) piano lines. At 18 minutes, this cycle is the longest work on the disc, and these songs are nothing short of gorgeous. They must be as rewarding to play as they are to listen to. Tale for flute, clarinet, and piano, is composed in three continuous movements, and its first section is constructed on the interval of the third, followed by a free cadenza and a frenzied dance in its conclusion. There is a good bit of passion in this work and some impressive climaxes that serve to rivet the listener’s attention. The musical style is unabashed late Romanticism, with some shifting from the major to parallel minor modes typical of that style.
The Greek style continues in The Oracle at Delphi, a musical depiction of one of the most famous wonders of the ancient world. Scored for the same forces as Tale, it opens very mysteriously with a modal line in the clarinet underscored by isolated and static chords in the piano. The original version of the piece (utilizing violin in lieu of flute), written for the Verdehr Trio, won the 1997 Grand Prize of the Delius Composition Contest, and it’s easy to see why, given the profundity of the piece. The texture is essentially dark, and the intervals of the perfect fourth and fifth are extensively employed, serving to transport the listener to “a time long ago and a galaxy far, far away.” The somber atmosphere and the quartal harmonies transfer over into the CD’s concluding work, Trio No. 2d for flute, cello, and piano. This work is the most modern—i.e., least tonal—in the recital, and is a revised and expanded recomposition of the composer’s earlier Piano Sonata. The flutterings in the various instruments convey an impression of mystery and intrigue, but around the three-minute mark, the activity and excitement level pick up a good bit, generating a truly frenetic effect. A surprise occurs seven minutes into the piece, and that is a divagation into the very firm key area of A Minor, but Constantinides gradually shifts back out of that into the previous idiom. After another lively section at the 10-minute mark, the piece concludes with a cluster crash in the lower register of the piano, out of which the three instruments make their concluding flourishes and final quiet sonority. This is a most imaginative and ingenious work, and my favorite among a whole recital of wonderful works.
Iwona Glinka is a superb flutist and musician whose pure, silvery tone will lift the spirits of the most jaded listener. The other musicians, all with connections to Poland, where the CD was recorded, are all first-rate, and the performances heard herein are definitive as far as my ears can tell. Recorded sound is excellent, and this well-filled Centaur disc is a must-own for anyone interested in fine music and performances thereof. David DeBoor Canfield
This article originally appeared in Issue 40:5 (May/June 2017) of Fanfare Magazine.
The second disc returns to Constantinides’s “home territory” of the Centaur label. Entitled Songs for Epirus after the major work it holds, the focus is here on Constantinides’s output for flute, and Iwona Glinka plays on every track. In fact, the first piece is written for her. The brief Song for Iwona reminds us of the fundamental melodic basis of Constantinides’s music, while Celestial Musings, again written for Glinka, cogitates musically on the workings of the zodiac and its influences on Earth. Constantinides describes the four elements in the piece, all of which makes the piece a solo complement to his Celestial Symphony No. 6, which similarly worked with the elements (recorded on Centaur by the Nuremburg SO under Stefanos Tsialis and reviewed by myself in Fanfare 32:1).
Just as we had a Fantasia for Saxophone on the Magni disc that produced an illusion of a dialogue delivered by one voice, so the Fantasia for Solo Flute repeats the trick. It’s nice to have an ensemble of flute, guitar, and cello (the cello grounds the sound) for Hellenic Dance; the original scoring was flute, guitar, and viola. The slower, contrasting middle section is particularly poignant, the cello adding an extra layer of emotion. Composed as an insert for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the brief (1:23) Ballade for Flute and Guitar holds that sense of nostalgia noted above, but now in an English courtly manner.
Inspired by the poetry of Chrysanthi Zitsea (who was born at Epirus in Greece), Songs for Epirus presents four movements of dancing delight. The first, “Songs in the Old Manner,” showcases pianist Ewa Sarwińska’s excellent staccato, and Glinka’s superb legato line the playful “The Dance” that follow is sprightly. Perhaps the piano seems a touch closely miked here, but the tappings that open “Delphic Hymn” seem appropriately distanced and atmospheric; they alternate with occasional piano chords to provide the background of the flute’s musings. Seemingly against its title, “Fiesta” begins and continues on in a markedly reflective fashion, like a slow processional.
The piece Tale recurs here in a version for flute, clarinet, and piano (and takes the catalog number LRC 151c, implying there is at least one other alternative). While the two-clarinet version seems perfect, the use of flute here seems justified by Glinka’s strength of character. This is also a more reflective performance. Greek musical language once again makes itself felt in The Oracle at Delphi (Study III) for flute, clarinet, and piano. Again, there is an alternative version. (Originally the scoring was violin, clarinet, and piano; that version has been recorded by the Verdehr Trio on Crystal Records and was reviewed by William Zagorski in Fanfare 25:2, back in 2001.) Zagorski described the work as “highly evocative and haunting,” and so it remains in the present scoring and performance. There are distinctly darker colors here than one habitually associates with this composer.
Finally, Trio No. 2d is a revised and expanded “recomposition” of Constantinides’s earlier Piano Sonata; the arrangement was done specifically for Iwona Glinka. Here, it is quartal harmonies that give the piece its particular flavor. The piece extends over a quarter of an hour and is constructed from textures that are bare and forbidding—the perfect partner for The Oracle at Delphi, one might well argue. The Trio threatens to deconstruct itself around three minutes before its end; it is the piano that tries to steady the course, but the music becomes gestural and fragmentary. There is a real feeling of struggle here for the music to find the light, as snippets of dances get crushed by the chords (clusters?) in the piano’s low register.
These are fascinating performances and, as so often from Constantinides, strong, involving music. The recording quality on the Centaur disc is the more consistent, but both discs have much to offer musically. Colin Clarke
CONSTANTINIDES: Flute Pieces
Iwona Glinka; Michal Wesolowski, cl; Karol Sokolowski, vc; Malgorzata Czapor, Ewa Sarwinska, p; Bartosz Paprot, g
Centaur 3547—75 minutes
Flutist and Yamaha Artist Iwona Glinka cared enough for the music of Brian Ferneyhough (b 1943; see M/A 2003) to make some of it the subject of her doctoral dissertation. She has also performed more than 100 works written for her by American, Australian, Belgian, British, Canadian, Greek, German, and Polish composers. Now she devotes herself to flute pieces by Greek-born violinist and composer Dinos Constantinides (1929), who has lived most of his life in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
The selections are largely imaginative and worth hearing. The best ones are mesmeriz- ing. These are two trios with clarinet, one orig- inally scored for the Verdehrs. Another large piece is the Songs for Epirus, a four-movement suite for flute and piano that combines sim- plicity, clarity, the Greek landscape, and Greek poetry.
Trio 2 for flute, cello, and piano is a revi- sion and expansion of a piano sonata that was dedicated to the composer’s mother. Written in three connected sections, fast-slow-fast, it seems to have gone where early 20th Century German modernism was going and taken the style further along in time but not further toward atonality. The writing alternates among held notes, fast repeated intervallic gestures, and skitterish punctuations that interrupt and intrude, and uses the entire compass of the keyboard. The whole impression is of striving for effects rather than attaining them, yet there is a sincerety that makes it more meaning than noise.
The shorter pieces include a Renaissance- flavored Ballade for flute and guitar; a folk-like Hellenic Dance for flute, cello, and guitar; and a 7-minute solo flute piece inspired by the Zodiac, Celestial Musings.
Glinka is giving these pieces all she has to offer with her considerable gifts. Her compan- ions match that excellence, though some parts make more demands than others. Readers with an interest in chamber music should get acquainted with Constantinides.
GORMAN This article originally appeared in (January/February 2018) of American Record Guide.