American portraits with music by Copland, Schocker, Still and Martinů
Ingrid Culliford – flute, Kris `Zuelicke – piano, Rhiannon Thomas – cello
St Andrew’s on The Terrace
Wednesday 17 April, 12.15pm
The music of theUnited States, in the common perception, is so dominated by jazz, spirituals and various other kinds of popular music, that I have to confess to a degree of surprise to encounter music that might have been written in Europe. And that, in spite of my perfectly decent familiarity with a lot of the classical music of theUnited States.
The first two pieces were for flute and piano. Copland’s Duo had a spacious character and the sounds of Appalachia were not hard to pick up. Its movement titles were appropriate: the first marked ‘Flowing’, was slow and peaceful, both instruments in sympathy. But it became more animated, in triple time, as the piano provided a syncopated rhythm which gave rise to some curiosity about the nature of the substance that was flowing. The second movement was described as mournful though its mood, for me, was not too tragic.
If Copland was here writing carefully to provide a piece that would be easily grasped by an audience and enjoyed by players, he discovered the right recipe. The last movement was an even more conspicuous off-spring of his Appalachia ballet, with a hoe-down rhythm, which got increasingly complex and seemed to be employing more than merely two instruments. The two players did an excellent job producing sounds that were happily idiomatic – Kris Zuelicke was born in the US after all.
Gary Schocker was born in 1959 and is a flutist – a pupil of James Galway. His piece for flute and piano, American Suite, in four movements, was a sequence of impressions; the first was a meditative ‘Incantation’ in which the flute suggested something of the spirit of the shepherd of ancient Greece, though there seemed little sign of an object of prayer; then came a ‘Spirit Dance’ that was not especially ethereal. The third section depicted a ‘Hidden Spring’ which revealed itself rather brazenly to find itself at the fourth section, ‘Harvest Time’, where a familiar folk song was successfully introduced. It was a well written piece for the instruments, played with enthusiasm.
William Grant Still, born in 1895, is believed to have been the first African American to become a successful composer in the classical genre. Flute and piano were now joined by cellist Rhiannon Thomas in two of five Miniatures by Still. The cello alone opened the piece, in attractive and tasteful playing with discreet touches of vibrato and expressive gestures. When the flute entered, in a folk song that was famailiar, though I could not claim to know it, the music found a very agreeable instrumental blend. In the fifth part of the suite, the cello again took the lead; though it was attractive enough, the music seemed to call for a little more energy and abandon, even, than the players delivered.
The most substantial piece in the programme was the Martinů trio for these instruments, a piece that I suspect might have been the rationale for their getting together. Martinů has melodic and harmonic fingerprints that are almost immediately recognisable and not many notes had been played before they came to the surface. I have long been somewhat devoted to the composer and this performance, even though short of the ultimate degree of delight and elegance, carried me along very happily. My only reservation derived from the balance between the instruments. Particularly in the last movement, I became aware of the flute’s dominance, rather at the expense of its partners both of which were making interesting and engaging contributions.
Though it had been the Martinů that drew me particularly to this concert, and which gave me the most delight, the supporting programme, though uneven, was definitely worth listening to.