Flutist makes sparkling Wellington premiere at St Andrew’s

Gabriella Kopias (flute) and Richard Mapp (piano)

Music by Doppler, Debussy, Takemitsu, Fauré, Rachmaninov; Chaminade, Piaf and Ravel

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 1 April, 12:15 pm

It’s not clear what has brought Gabriella Kopias to Wellington, but it was whispered to me that she would rather like to stay here. That would be lovely, not because there is any lack of excellent flutists in town, but another of the quality of Kopias (pronounced Kópyas, I expect) could hardly be any sort of embarras de richesses.

She was born in Szeged in Hungary in 1975, graduated with distinction from both the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest and the Arts University in Graz, Austria and now makes her home in Vienna. While she has had some orchestral experience, including with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra, she seems to have made a career as a flute soloist; and also as a cantatrice: she ended her recital, leaving her flute aside and singing Piaf’s La vie en rose, with a very creditable Piaffian timbre and style. She also exhibits as a painter.

Gabriella chose a diverting and varied programme, starting with the Fantaisie pastorale hongroise by Polish/Hungarian, flutist-composer Albert Franz Doppler, who was born in Lemberg (when part of Austria in the 18th century), Lwow when in Poland after WWI (though the population from the 16th century was predominantly Polish and Jewish), and now Lviv, after the total expulsion of the Polish population (‘ethnic cleansing’) after 1945, when it was taken by the USSR to be part of Ukraine. Doppler was a close contemporary of Franck, Lalo, Johann Strauss II, Bruckner).

He wrote successful operas and instrumental pieces, the most famous of which is this Fantaisie. She played this delightful war-horse from memory, accompanied with verve and discretion by Richard Mapp; in three distinct parts, each illustrating a different aspect of Hungary’s musical character, finally a csardas, all full of lively melody and rhythm.

Debussy’s Syrinx seems to be most commonly played solo flute piece, so its place was to be expected, and most welcome.

Toru Takemitsu may still be the best known Japanese classical composer, it was the chance for Richard Mapp to be heard alone; Rain Tree reveals itself in a magical palette that derives from Debussy impressionism and the mysticism of the Buddhist or Shinto world. It seems to evolve but there is also the strong sense of remaining still.

Fauré’s Fantaisie (Andantino and Allegro) is one of those pieces, the Allegro at least, that’s familiar, attractive, but whose composer I hadn’t logged in the memory; one of the many pieces inspired by the great French flute player and protagonist, Paul Taffanel. The piano’s contribution was a very significant element in the performance, lending the first section, Andantino, more interest than it gets sometimes;
and the flute’s contribution was beguiling, fast and brilliant. The two were, as everywhere in the recital, in delightful balance, in support of each other but never invading the other’s space. (I missed the point of Gabriella’s comment, introducing the piece, about Cinderella, and quoting the words put in her mouth in the current Walt Disney film, ‘Have courage and be kind’).

I wondered whether in her next piece she would return to the platform without her flute, to sing Rachmaninov’s Vocalise, which is its original idea of course. But she played the flute, showing how adaptable this evergreen gem is.

Cécile Chaminade, in her long life (born before Puccini and died during the second World War), acquired a sort of palm court reputation in her lifetime and later, but she’s much more than that: her genius was for geniality, charm, sticking to melody and tonality through the turbulence of atonality and avant-gardism. In any case this Concertino, originally for flute and orchestra, Op 107, which was also dedicated to Paul Taffanel, gave clear indications of a capacity for those gifts to find expression in an extended piece that was carefully balanced, ending with an accelerating flourish. Again this well-matched duo proved splendid advocates for unpretentious music that is clearly surviving the years.

Then Gabriella really did leave her flute behind and picked up the microphone to sing Piaf, as I noted above. How many would accept that the definition of ‘classical’ extends far beyond the ranks of those composers whose names are followed by brackets showing dates of birth and death?

Finally, an encore listed in the programme: Ravel’s Habanera, or rather, the Vocalise-étude en forme de habanera, is a song for deep voice and piano. In arrangements for a great variety of instruments it’s been called Pièce en forme de habanera. As does Rachmaninov’s Vocalise, it sits happily for almost any instruments, and this was a most attractive way to end this introduction to a musician whom I hope we will hear again.


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