Nicolas Costantinou at Wigmore Hall

Préludes – Book I
Piano Sonata in B flat, K333
Fantasy in F minor, Op.49

Nicolas Costantinou (piano)

Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: 22 July, 2009
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

The second half of this recital was certainly memorable – for entirely non-musical reasons. First a woman went for a quick wander along the front row during the first movement of the Mozart and then got up and walked out during the one. Rather more entertainingly, a man near the back of the Hall shouted out something unintelligible near the beginning of the Chopin and was escorted out. One can only assume that he was a music-lover, given the standard of playing on offer.

Debussy’s First Book of Préludes started with a gentle sense of slow swing to the rhythm and some persuasive phrasing, only for the second section to be too slow and amorphous. In ‘Voiles’ the quintessentially Debussian right-hand figure needed more colour and a sense of space around the sound, while the syncopated rhythms of ‘Le vent dans la plaine’ needed more spring and definition. The amorphous quality of the first Prélude (‘Danseuses de Delphes’) resurfaced in ‘Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir’ and in subsequent pieces there was a worrying absence of form and structure. Allied to this, Costantinou produced a rather monochromatic tonal palette and clarity became an end in itself. In the ninth piece, ‘La sérénade interrompue’, the piano imitates the Spanish guitar, but this was only hinted at here. ‘La Cathédrale engloutie’ was very loud in the extended central section; unfortunately Costantinou under-used the sustaining pedal and produced a jarring staccato-like effect.

Mozart’s piano sonatas are not very imaginative and the B flat’s thematic material is hardly inspired. Nonetheless, sympathetic pianists can bring these works to life. Regrettably Costantinou was not such an artist on this occasion. The opening movement’s first subject was shapeless and an accelerando was uneven and far from note-perfect. Indeed throughout the work the pianist wasn’t in complete technical command and the expressive range was severely limited; the slow movement was devoid of feeling and the finale lacked any sense of dance.

Chopin’s F minor Fantasy is of startling originality. Its opening theme is in two distinct halves and is then not – strictly speaking – used again. But its shape and spirit seem to haunt the entire work. In Costantinou’s hands, this opening theme was empty of poetry and the central reverie failed to flow or sing. Whenever the tempo increased and the writing becomes virtuosic, Costantinou was remorseless with no dynamic variation below ff and rhythms were staid and stolid. This really was very bad Chopin-playing which struggled to reach international standard and, sadly, the same can be said for the rest of the recital.

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