St Andrew’s Lunchtime concerts
Ingrid Culliford (flute), Kris Zuelicke (piano)
Ernest Bloch: Suite modale for flute and piano
John Ritchie: The Snow Goose
Miriam Hyde: The Little Juggler and The Evening under the Hill
Anne Boyd: Goldfish through Summer Rain
Carl Vine: Sonata for Flute and Piano
St Andrew’s on The Terrace
Wednesday 29 April, 12:15 pm
A flute recital that contained no big composer names might not have seemed particularly enticing. And in some ways it wasn’t, there was nothing that really demanded being embedded in the memory or prompted a visit to Parsons (whoops!) to look for a CD of a particular piece.
What made it interesting (for me at least) was the theme of Australia, no doubt bearing in mind a centenary that is absorbing a lot of media space just now. In the 1980s and 90s when I used to make frequent trips to Sydney and Melbourne I used to browse the CD bins at the Australian Music Centre in The Rocks, Sydney and all the well-stocked music stores that proliferated in those civilised times. And I became familiar with the music of most of the leading Australian composers. I was often disconcerted to find so much new music across the Tasman that was interesting and engaging, still able to withstand the pressures of the avant-garde that many composers in New Zealand were striving to emulate.
Then there was the presence of women composers who emerged much earlier in Australia than here; significant women composers began to appear in Australia by the 1920s, starting with Margaret Sutherland, and then Miriam Hyde (born two years before Lilburn), Peggy Glanville-Hicks …
Miriam Hyde’s The Little Juggler, of 1956, and Evening under the Hill were played at this concert. The first, a happy, uncomplicated piece in fairly traditional style, seemed to reflect an English character, brushed by the influence of French flute composers like Françaix or Pierné. The second, from a set of five pieces of 1936, did not especially evoke evening, but was a charming impressionistic piece nevertheless.
However, the recital began with Ernest Bloch’s Suite modale, in four movements, mainly contemplative in character; even the last two movements marked Allegro giocoso – a subdued joy perhaps – and Allegro deciso maintained a meditative and slightly sombre spirit in spite of fluttering scalic passages that rose and fell. Its fine performance by a gifted, versatile flutist and a pianist whose role was both distinctive and accommodating of the characteristics of the flute promised a recital of considerable interest and pleasure.
It was good to be reminded that the flute need not be restricted to music that’s light and airy but that it can express more pensive moods, allowing more basic musical qualities to emerge from music of substance.
That was followed by an attractive narrative piece by John Ritchie, The Snow Goose, which was a sentimental and hugely popular post-WW2 children’s and young person’s story of bravery involving a goose repaying its rescue and nursing by the hero in helping evacuate thousands of British troops from Dunkirk in 1940. Sensitive playing of melodic shapes and occasional sunlit flights suggested elements of the story.
An Australian composer of the next generation after Hyde, Anne Boyd, wrote a piece inspired by a poem in the form of a haiku, Goldfish through Summer Rain, in which the flute could well be heard adopting the character of the Japanese shakuhachi, and unsurprisingly, reminded me of Takemitsu.
The recital ended with a flute sonata by Carl Vine, born in 1954, one of Australia’s leading male composers. He has described himself as ‘radically tonal’ and that is indeed a way to describe his energetic, melodic, muscular first piano concerto and his Choral Symphony which I have on CD and have just been refreshing my memory with. As I listened to this flute sonata I scribbled words about the first movement, Fast, like ‘not afraid to write big attractive tunes’ and ‘accessible music’, not words that quite a few younger New Zealand composers would feel comfortable with.
The middle movement, entitled Slow, showed the gentle Vine, rhapsodic in character. Predictably, the last movement is ‘Very Fast’ (Real composers of course would have applied proper musical terms in an appropriate foreign language like Vivace, Lento and Molto vivace). I was amused at the composer’s teasing, long-anticipated closing cadences, sort of mocking the common, endless perorations of some of the great 19th century composers.
Anyway, it proved a splendidly unconventional way to end a flute recital, a complete turn away from flutish composition of the classical era, of the French school founded by Taffanel, or of misty dreaminess of early 20th century English music. The Vine was a bit special, but the earlier music in the programme, some of which might have been characterized by my last sentence, was varied, expanding our flute horizons, and highly enjoyable in the context devised by the players.