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Marius CONSTANT (1925-2004)
Orchestral works
Turner: Three Essays for Orchestra (1961) [12:45]
Brevissima (1992) [10:11]
103 Regards dans l’eau (1981) [30:40]
Video feature including archival footage of Constant [11:00]
Olivier Charlier (violin) (103 Regards dans l’eau)
Riverside Symphony/George Rothman
rec. 2001/2006, New York
First issued in limited circulation on Riverside Symphony Records.
DIVINE ART DDA25216 [64:36]

Marius Constant was born in Bucharest but made his lifelong base in Paris from 1945 until his death. He studied conducting with Jean Fournet and composition with Nadia Boulanger, Olivier Messiaen and Arthur Honegger.

His first notable orchestral work was Twenty-Four Preludes for Orchestra which was premiered by Leonard Bernstein and the French National Orchestra in 1959. George Rothman, the conductor here, studied with Bernstein. The Constant work-list includes seven operas, seven ballets and works in pretty well every other format. His most popular piece is the theme from The Twilight Zone (1959). This was not his only foray into work for the small and large screens. With ORTF forces he recorded extensively for Erato, both his own music and that of Messiaen and Varèse. Erato also produced a CD of four of the concertos (horn, organ, saxophone, trombone) under Jerome Kaltenbach. His orchestrations of the work of other composers include those of Ravel and Debussy - the latter in Pelléas et Mélisande - “A Symphony after the opera”.

He was amicably associated with Henri Dutilleux. Until hearing this disc I knew very few of Constant’s works but these three orchestral pieces occupy a flighty avant-garde niche. The music muses sourly, crashes with insolence, swells with turbulence and occasionally sings out though rarely in total surrender to uncomplicated cantilena.

Messiaen’s side-ways influence can be heard, from time to time, in Turner. Bleak, curdled, and certainly affluent in atmospheric effects, Turner is in “The Three Essays”: ‘Pluie, Vapeur et Vitesse’; ‘Autoportrait’ and ‘Windsor’. In making links to the images, I have guessed which of several ‘Windsor’ paintings the last Essay relates to. The work dates from the early 1960s. It is open to remark that Constant was gripped by the British Turner when he had a pantheon of Impressionists from France to choose from. ‘Autoportrait’, presumably Turner’s and perhaps Constant’s self-portrait, suggests the composer readily picked up and amplified jagged anger and this mood carries over into ‘Windsor’.

There are four short movements in Brevissima (“A symphony in four movements”) from three decades after Turner. The music still crashes and heaves but the voice of Debussy is closer to the surface of the mix. It sears and moans but is concise and Constant allows himself the luxury of a wind machine in the last movement. There are also some very frank echoes of the orchestral Debussy.

The French violinist Olivier Charlier developed his musicianship under the aegis of Henryk Szeryng, Yehudi Menuhin and Nadia Boulanger, one of Constant’s own teachers. Charlier’s recordings, many of which were made with Chandos, include concertos by Dutilleux, Lalo, Gregson, Gerard Schurmann, Mendelssohn and Saint-Saëns. Here Charlier follows in the footsteps of recordings of the concerto made by Rodrigue Milosi and by Patrice Fontanarosa under the composer; the latter on a Cybelia disc and coupled there with the Constant’s Nana Symphony. The Concerto is contemplative and at times (as in the last of the four movements) floats freely with an almost Waltonian lyricism. The recording is once again exemplary and reliably communicates the score’s tensile strength and its exploration of the extremes of dynamic.

The disc is completed by an eleven-minute video (which I was not able to access - problems with my PC, not with the CD) about Constant. You are guided through the experience of Marius Constant’s world by George Rothman and Anthony Korf; the latter wrote the useful and extensive booklet note.

Not for faint hearts then. Those who persist will hear lyrical impulse given treasured expression amongst the thrawn pages and thorny conflicts.

Rob Barnett

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