Greek Contemporary composer Dinos Constantinides [born 1929] wrote three string quartets. They are all short works. There is a dearth of information about him on the Internet; he doesn’t even appear on Wikipedia. I would be interested to know the dates of the compositions. Probably Kai at earsense will track them down!

The First Quartet is in three movements. It opens in a quietly abstract manner before moving into a tempo. The violins quiver while the cello is strong and there are many interjections. Suddenly a rushing passage takes off, littered with string sound effects. There is a lot of glissando. The abstraction continues with much melodic action, and some orchestral-like harmonised lines, before ending on a slightly dissonant chord.

The next movement follows with a lamenting scene as the violins play long, quivering notes. A sense of melancholy prevails. The violins edge forward as the cello offers up some glissando of its own, yet there is no forward movement, just sound. It is sometimes slightly harsh, offering up a sparsity that is beguiling. The cello dialogues with the violins and the mood is again abstract.  A sustained chord fades to the end.

The final movement is energised and there is a sense of ostinato as the violins are quite animated, expressing long melodies. Now the rhythm dissipates and we are left with ensemble thrusts which propel the violins into the stratosphere. Returning to the ground, the violins are strong and conclude this very brief movement.

The Second Quartet is titled Mutability and is in four movements. Again, it starts with a lament and becomes almost orchestral in its sound. For me, it evokes Arvo Pärt. There are constant sweeping violin statements over a sparse background. This is heavenly, beautiful writing. A fluttering of strong violins leads to a repeated motif which acts as a springboard for the violins. Following a brief period of stasis, the motif returns; this time, not for so long. When the rhythm subsides, the cello echoes a violin melody and soon the orchestral texture, although sparse, returns. The cello is magnificent here and the violins so understated. The end is a delicate, slow passage on this mood.

Now we have another abstract beginning with random groupings of notes and shifting textures. The composer seems to revel in these very beautiful, unpretentious soundscapes. The feeling gently pans out into an extended passage as the violins are very expressive. Towards the end the music becomes ever so sparse and just fades away.

The third movement is animated, with a propulsive viola motif and much activity. It doesn’t last and the previous stasis returns. The cello pulsates as the violins again reach skyward with glissandos aplenty. A tempo ensues and there is agitation from all instruments; an orchestral sweep from the violins checks the tempo and the cello repeats a long, rhythmic phrase. This is very effective as the violins hold a sustained chord until the cello ceases and the music finishes with two violins on a chord.

The final movement is slightly rhapsodic, interspersed with interjections. String sound effects are in abundance as the music becomes hymn-like, repeating a lamenting phrase. I believe the Greek influence can be heard in the melodies, evoking images of a countryside; the melodies are folk-like. This leads to a period of agitation and the sparsity is most evident. Some energy is felt before the cello tempers this with long tones. A funereal melodic statement from the violins is very Greek. Paradoxically, this creates a sense of optimism as it gently fades. Now a period of intense activity comes and goes, all the while being broken up intermittently by the previous melody, eventually leading to a slowly faded ending.

I won’t be discussing the one-movement Third Quartet, but I can tell you that it is very much a soundscape filled with spaces and sparse instrumental interjections. There are also several other short pieces for string quartet on the disc.

So what to make of this strange, possibly unique music? I believe the composer uses ethnic sounds from his country and shapes them into his own world. They could be called one-dimensional but I am quite taken by the way he presents this ambient abstract music. Oh, and he pretty much always writes in minor keys.

The review CD, titled Dinos Constantinides: String Quartets, on Centaur Records and performed by various string quartet ensembles is available from Amazon US but not UK, although it is on Presto Classical. The full CD can be heard on Spotify, YouTube and earsense.

Listenability: Wonderfully mild, abstract, melancholy soundscapes.


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