ALBUM: Arcadian Murmurs
ARTIST: Nina Assimakopoulos

The subtitle ("Pan in Pieces") of this selection of works for solo flute fairly sums up the basic idea running throughout the recital:. a varied collection of pieces evoking Pan, in one way or another. It appropriately opens with Debussy's celebrated Syrinx followed by a very similar short work The Ecstatic Shepherd by the 'English Debussy', i.e. Cyril Scott. (Incidentally, Scott's piece has been recorded by Kenneth Smith several years ago [ASV CD DCA 739].) Ary van Leeuwen was one of the foremost flute virtuosi of his time. He was hired by Mahler and went on to become principal flautist with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra under Sir Eugene Goossens. The challenge of his Pan's Lament is, so we are told, to give linear coherence to a score that at first sight looks rather like a patchwork of fragmentary ideas. Poulenc's Le joueur de flûte berce les ruines is a real novelty, though not one to greatly shatter our appreciation of his output. This tiny sketch was composed in 1942 probably as a gift to a friend (we are not told), was lost for many years and consequently never mentioned in any worklist. It surfaced as recently as 1997. The very detailed notes by Bradley Wilber accompanying this release mention that DeLaney's lovely Hymn to Pan was inspired by Shelley's eponymous poem. The French composer Roger Bourdin, trained and active as a flautist, is rather better-known for short idiomatic pieces for flute, of which Chanson de Pan and Pan blessé are ­ I think ­ good examples. These pieces may be fairly well-known by flautists, but less so by music lovers, so that their inclusion here is most welcome.

All the pieces in the second half of the present recital are fairly recent, including several works written as recently as 2003. Need I say that all the composers, but one, were unknown to me? Benjamin Boone's The Wood Nymph of Nonacris composed in 1989, Mark Hijleh's Syrinx, Too as well as Binnette Lipper's Flute Flight are all overtly inspired by Debussy's Syrinx, viewed ­ or, rather, heard ­ through slightly more modern techniques. They use more advanced playing techniques such as lip bend and Flatterzung, always tastefully and discretely so. Russian-born Margarita Zelenaia's Pan's Pastoral for a Shepherd has a delightful, folk-like ring à la Bartók. Pan(ic) by Gene Pritsker might call Birtwistle's saxophone concerto to mind, but is nothing like as controversial as that piece. It nevertheless displays a good deal of energy and is again quite idiomatically written. David Golightly's Three Pan Love Songs are also beautifully written, although they may be more complex, technically speaking, but nonetheless very attractive. This short triptych is not unlike Golightly's much earlier, quite substantial work for solo clarinet Moods (1980), available on ASC CS CD2. Incidentally, at about 6 minutes, this is the longest work here. The young French composer Pierre Thilloy, whose name is also new to me, is represented here by yet another beautiful miniature Le Rêve de Pan.

By the way, there a last track Woodland Sounds by Dave Sluberski which simply rounds this recital off with some recorded nature sounds.
As already hinted at in the above, all the pieces in this recital are fairly short, and most of them are similar, in spirit and letter. I can imagine this selection being too much of a good thing for some tastes. If so, then, the best way to enjoy it is to hear it in bits, a few pieces at a time. However, there is enough variety in the composers' approach to the Pan myth to avoid any monotony. Anyway, Nina Assimakopoulos plays beautifully throughout and her superb readings are beautifully recorded. This release as a whole is excessively well produced with detailed notes that tell you anything you want to know about the pieces and their composers. It is adorned with a beautiful, Pre-Raphaelite-looking photograph of Nina. The only reservation I have to express concerns the shamefully short playing time. But this small point apart, this is a most enjoyable recital.

Hubert Culot

This page was last updated on 15 November, 2005