September 20, 2018
New Music for Flute—Works by Arthur M. Bachmann, Kent Kennan, Harry Somers, Henry Wolking, André Jolivet, Gabriel Fauré, and Efraín Amaya. Sara Hahn and Sarah Gieck, flutes; Laura Loewen, piano. Navona. $14.99.
New Music for Classical Guitar—Works by Michael Karmon, Richard Gibson, John Oliver, William Beauvais, and David Gordon Duke. Alan Rinehart, guitar. Ravello. $14.99.
Music for Guitar and Flute—Works by Manuel de Falla, Sergio Assad, Ástor Piazzolla, Narciso Saúl, Roddy Ellias, Celso Machado, and Sid Robinovitch. Duo Beija-Flor (Charles Hobson, guitar; Marie-Noëlle Choquette, flute). Big Round Records. $14.99.
The fact that some instruments are generally thought of primarily for their delicacy does not reduce their potential for virtuosic display and emotional communication, nor does it interfere with composers’ propensity for exploiting the instruments’ ranges and, especially in contemporary music, pushing them to their limits. The flute, in particular, is under-appreciated for the depths of expressiveness of which it is capable – one of many reasons that the instrument, then known as the transverse flute, largely supplanted the recorder after Baroque times. Sara Hahn, longtime principal flute of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, offers an unusually emotionally charged recital on a new Navona release that mostly contains recently composed music but that starts as far back as 1898. The CD is arranged not chronologically but according to emotions that Hahn sees the works evoking. But musically, it may be better understood when heard more or less in the order in which the pieces were created. There are two works here by fairly well-known composers, both originally written as Paris Conservatoire test pieces, including the earliest piece on the recording, Fauré’s Morceau de Concours for flute and piano. Simple, quiet and emotionally settled, it contrasts strongly with the intensity of Jolivet’s wartime (1944) Chant de Linos, also for flute and piano. Hahn is impressive in breath control and finger technique, her emotional connection with the expressiveness of these works – indeed, of all the pieces on the disc – being quite impressive. For instance, in another early work here, Kent Kennan’s 1936 Night Soliloquy for flute and piano, the mood is one of vague disquiet, with the piano’s dissonances rather unnervingly underlying the flute notes; and Hahn brings the feelings out effectively, aided by the very fine accompaniment of Laura Loewen, who is an adept partner throughout the disc. Hahn is equally effective on her own in the straightforwardly sad Etching (1964) by Harry Somers. The remaining pieces on the disc are more recent but no less emotive in Hahn’s hands. They include two works in which themes and feelings pass back and forth between performers: The Gate of Lodore, for flute and piano, by Henry Wolking, and Pathways, for two flutes (Hahn and Sarah Gieck), by Efraín Amaya; and two recent and quite moving works by Arthur Bachmann, both of which move emotionally from trouble and turmoil toward acceptance and optimism. One of Bachmann’s, The Curmudgeon and the Lark, is for flute and alto flute; the other, I Close My Eyes… for flute and piano, has a strongly personal connection for Hahn, having been written for her in connection with her mother’s battle with and recovery from cancer. It is certainly no surprise that Hahn plays this specific work with such deep feeling. But what this CD shows is how Hahn brings the same level of involvement to all the material, expertly evoking the composers’ intended connections with listeners and showing that the flute, for all its essentially gentle tone, can convey a wide range of expressions in the hands of a sensitive performer.
The feelings are less wide-ranging and more in line with what listeners are likely to expect from the solo guitar on a new Ravello CD featuring Alan Rinehart and built around him musically: four of the five works were written for him. Dreams Laid Down by Michael Karmon has a doubly personal connection to the performer, its six movements being inspired by poems by Rinehart’s wife, Janice Notland. The movements’ titles will have no meaning for people unfamiliar with the specific poems that led to them, but Rinehart’s pleasant and highly involving performance, which fully captures the nuances of the material, will be welcome to listeners interested in hearing a contemporary example of varying levels of emotionally evocative expression. The six movements of Ancient Heroes Suite by John Oliver are evocative in a different and somewhat more rarefied way, reflecting not the heroes of myth and legend but those of music: the movements reflect and pay tribute to Couperin, Dowland and other composers of prior centuries, and will be of particular interest to listeners familiar with the types of music that inspired them. Two other works on this disc focus to a considerable extent on guitar techniques and will especially appeal to performers. The brightness, thematic connections, juxtaposition of themes with accompaniment, and use of harmonics are all of interest in Beginning of the Day by William Beauvais, which includes an extended, improvisation-like first movement and a much shorter second one. Soliloquies and Dreams by David Gordon Duke is a set of seven very short movements (about a minute apiece or less) in which the guitar is often stripped to its essentials, heard in one-at-a-time linear note sequences rather than anything chordal or strummed. The fifth piece on this disc, and the only one not commissioned by Rinehart, is Variationes Sobre una Tema de Juan Lennon by Richard Gibson, based on a portion of a John Lennon song heard on the Beatles’ White Album. This is an unusually successful genre-mixing work, in which Gibson takes what is essentially simple “pop” material and twists and turns it in some traditional and some nontraditional ways associated with the “variations” form, expanding the original into new realms while keeping it as a foundational kernel. Listeners who know the original song will, of course, find the most to enjoy here.
Genre mixing is the heart and soul of an entire new CD featuring Duo Beija-Flor and released on the Big Round Records label. Instrumental mixing is a significant element here as well: the disc is an intriguing example of the way flute and guitar, both usually thought of as being among the gentler instruments, can move into new sound realms when combined and played off against one another. Charles Hobson and Marie-Noëlle Choquette directly describe their music-making as “ethno-classical,” and that is a clue to this disc even before a listener hears anything on it. Some of the music is well-known (although not in the form arranged by the performers); so are some of the composers; other material will likely be wholly new to almost all listeners; but everything is designed to reflect Hobson’s and Choquette’s interest in songs, rhythms and harmonies from various regions. At the same time, both performers expand and extend their instruments’ techniques in ways that are recognizably contemporary, frequently using the underlying gentleness associated with guitar and flute only as backdrop while taking matters into sonic realms beyond what the audience will likely anticipate. The many moods of Manuel de Falla’s well-known Siete Canciones Populares Españolas open the CD in suitably variegated fashion, giving the performers plenty of chances to display their virtuosity and flair for instrumental color. What follows is Summer Garden Suite by Sergio Assad – the music is from the soundtrack to a Japanese film but reflects impressions of South America. There are two arrangements here of works by Ástor Piazzolla: Escualo (Piazzolla’s only non-tango composition) and Oblivion. And there is the tango-inspired Boulevard San Jorge by Narciso Saúl. Next is Havana Street Parade, written for Duo Beija-Flor by Roddy Elias and taking good advantage of the performers’ abilities to handle jazz rhythms and changing dynamics. Even more interesting are two contrasting pieces by Celso Machado, based on two Brazilian candies: Pé de Moleque, which starts by using the guitar’s body as a percussion instrument, and Quebra Quiexo, a slower and more flavorful offering. The CD concludes with two sets of songs without words. Machado’s Dois Fados presents two updated versions of old songs sung by sailors during long voyages – the first quietly melancholic, the second opening wistfully before becoming more upbeat. Finally, Sid Robinovitch’s Four Sephardic Songs offers arrangements of songs that tell specific stories. Only listeners who recognize the songs will get the full flavor of this piece – others will simply hear the first song as sad, the second as bright and dancelike, the third as quiet and thoughtful, the fourth as moderately paced, with the flute weaving rhythmic changes above a guitar ostinato. Given the skill of the performers, there is enjoyment to be had here even for those who do not know anything about the songs whose feelings Hobson and Choquette are bringing forth.