Patricia O'Callaghan

Christos Hatzis: Constantinople

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Christos Hatzis (born in 1953) is moving from his status as "one of Canada's leading composers" toward broad international recognition. If Constantinople (2000), for mezzo-soprano, Arabic vocalist, string trio, and digital audio, becomes widely distributed and known, it should be an important landmark bringing him attention on the international scene. Hatzis is an eclectic, who effortlessly draws on the resources of contemporary compositional techniques; the music of his native Greece, especially that of the Orthodox Church; popular music; and a variety of folk traditions, in what he describes as "cultural counterpoint." In the diversity of traditions he commingles or juxtaposes, the composer he most closely resembles is Osvaldo Golijov (whose Pasión Según San Marcos was premiered the same year as Constantinople). Constantinople, the city that was defined by the convergence of a variety of cultures, is an apt topic for a composition characterized by the sometimes abrasive, sometimes harmonious convergence of musical styles. The piece is complex in its psychology -- there are no simple, predictable resolutions -- and in its multilayered structures (what Hatzis calls its "semantic density"), but it's not aurally difficult. Its sumptuous abundance of ideas, and the ingenious and inspired ways in which they are related, overlay its depth with a brilliant, attractive surface. Hatzis constantly astonishes his listeners by confounding expectations with rhythmic, melodic, and textural surprises, but there are plenty of anchors to keep the listener engaged: repetition of melodies or patterns, familiar harmonic languages, and folk-like dance structures. And he writes gorgeous, sensual vocal lines and idiomatic, dramatically charged instrumental parts. The Gryphon Trio and vocalists Patricia O'Callaghan and Maryem Hassan Tollar deliver gripping, urgent, and beautifully nuanced performances. Hatzis conceived of the pieces as chamber music to be staged, with surround sound audio, and the extensive use of videos, lighting effects, and chorography. The audio component captured on the CD offers a limited picture of the piece, and the listener can only imagine its impact when performed with all of the elements it was created to incorporate. Analekta's sound is clean, spacious, and realistic.

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