Enterprising flute repertoire – Ingrid Culliford, with Kris Zuelicke

Old St.Paul’s Lunchtime Concert Series

Ingrid Culliford (flute) / Kris Zuelicke (piano)

J.S.BACH – Sonata for Flute and Keyboard BWV 1020

MIRIAM HYDE – 3 Solos for Flute and Piano

ERNST BLOCH – Suite Modale

ROBERT MUCZYNSKI – Sonata for Flute and Piano Op.14

Old St.Paul’s Church, Thorndon

Tuesday August 28th, 2012

It was a pleasure to encounter Ingrid Culliford’s flute-playing in repertoire different to that which I’ve heard her perform in the past, nearly always with the Auckland contemporary music ensemble 175 East. And double the pleasure was had from hearing the instrument played with such a variety of tones and timbres, the four very different pieces on the program requiring and getting properly individualized responses from both musicians.

Old Johann Sebastian’s lovely G Minor Flute Sonata (licence-plate number BWV 1020), has apparently been appropriated by certain scholars on behalf of the great man’s son, Carl Philipp Emmanuel, appearing in its Doppelgänger guise as H.542.5 – does the decimal point indicate a somewhat equivocal scholarly stance? Whoever was responsible, the work itself was a delight as presented here, the performers giving us a winning mixture of momentum and suspended beauty. This was characterized in part by the instrumental combination – the piano tripping gaily along, and the flute a more liberated spirit, choosing occasionally to mirror the piano’s busy figurations, but in other places soar untrammelled above them.

Throughout the sonata, I couldn’t help admiring Ingrid Culliford’s refusal to be victimized by the composer’s almost total disregard for his soloist’s lungs. This wasn’t such an issue in the slow movement, both players having sufficient “lebensraum” to negotiate both long-breathed lyrical lines and other-worldly, ambient accompanying modulations. There was also a hint here and there of the “echo” element between the instruments, most beautifully realized. Perhaps the finale, more than the other movements, leaned towards the rather more volatile spirit of the son as opposed to the father – occasional spurts of energy either (depending upon one’s point of view) invigorated or destabilized the music’s flow, with the performance certainly bringing out the essential character of those impulses.

Next was a work by Australian composer Miriam Hyde (1913-2005), someone whose work sounds as if it’s worth getting to know more of – Hyde was primarily a pianist, and one who had something of a performing career upon that instrument, both in Australia and overseas. She composed in all genres, except for opera, her style finding certain affinities with that of English composers of the time, subject to the same kinds of influences and inclinations. She had little in common with avant-garde trends, writing about her music at one point, “I feel my music can be a refuge for what beauty and peace can still be omnipresent…the triumph of good over evil. I make no apologies for writing from the heart”.

We heard three pieces from her work 5 Solos for Flute and Piano, a collection which the composer put together from pieces composed over a number of years, from 1949 to 1968. The earliest, Marsh Birds, was included here, as were The Little Juggler (1956) and Wedding Morn (1957). First was Wedding Morn, the opening piano chords beautifully played by Kris Zuelicke, the stuff of dreams, the flute introducing a rather more earthy aspect, as if rousing the spirit from the dreams and insisting upon some engagement. The piano evoked church bells, their figurations becoming somewhat Lisztian in places, to which the flute responded with lyrical wonderment.

Playful and gigue-like, The Little Juggler readily evoked the mesmeric nature of the activity, as well as plenty of tumbling warmth and an abrupt (perhaps unscheduled!) ending. Finally, the warmly-nostalgic Marsh Birds seemed to take one’s sensibilities back to simpler times at the outset, the middle section suggesting the extent of distances travelled in both time and space, and the birds’ dialogues striking a piquant, “song for the ages” note, the music ending wistfully. Enchanting.

To different worlds, next, with Ernest Bloch’s Suite Modale – with this, as with the Miriam Hyde work, Ingrid Culliford told us a little about the composer and the music’s circumstances. If one was expecting intensities of the order of the same composer’s Schelomo for ‘Cello and Orchestra, one would perhaps be disappointed; but what one got instead was an attractively ritualistic set of meditations, the composer refracting a lifetime’s experiences (Bloch wrote this in 1956, three years before his death) in this gently-conceived journey filled with bygone impressions. Bloch touchingly dedicated this work to the flautist Elaine Schaffer, whose playing he knew and admired from recordings, though he never actually met her.

Each of the four movements reflect a specific mood, which I thought the performers drew we listeners into. First, there was a kind of meditation expressed in polyphonic terms between flute and piano, rhapsodic in feeling, but elegant in style. Then, the players dug into the second movement, bringing out contrapuntal textures, and heightening a sense of ritual and order. The Allegro giocoso evoked youthful energies, both immediate and more nostalgically-conceived, while the finale contrasted a melancholic opening sequence with an exhilarating contrapuntal whirl of activity, one which wound down through attractively melodic piano-and-flute interactions to a strongly-poised, inwardly peaceful ending.

There remained the Flute Sonata of a composer unknown to me, Robert Muczynski, born in Chicago in 1929, who trained as a pianist, and whose works mostly involve chamber ensembles and piano. This four-movement Sonata, neoclassical in spirit, had bags of personality, which the performers obviously relished throughout – a lively, even volatile opening movement with plenty of rhythmic syncopation and dynamic contrast, followed by a Scherzo whose L’Apprenti Sorcier-like galumphings alternated with gentler, more pastoral gaieties. The musicians then gave us, by way of contrast, some rapt, almost mesmeric textures of enchantment at the Andante’s beginning, which the piano then darkened with suggestions of the abyss beneath, indicating that not all is sweetness and light in this world of ours. These were sobering thoughts which the gaiety of the finale’s Allegro con moto thankfully put aside. True, some of the music’s edges were angular and elbow-sharp, but the ride was nevertheless an exhilarating one. Both musicians brought to these things loads of spirit and sensibility, expressed by turns with unerring judgement and fine feeling. A lovely concert.






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