Flute and piano duo feature composers languishing in the shadows of the greats

St Andrew’s lunchtime recital

Christy and Nick Hunter – flute and piano

Johann Joachim Quantz: a flute concerto in G
Rachmaninov: Prelude in E flat, Op 23/6
Nick Hunter: …and the mountain looms in the falling light
Jules Mouquet: La flute de Pan

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 30 November, 12:15 pm

Here were two names that were slightly familiar to me but which I couldn’t really offer biographical information about. Both studied in Wellington: Nick at the Conservatorium of Music at Massey University, Christy at Victoria University. Palmerston North has featured in the lives of both, but the birth-place of neither was disclosed. They are married and have quite a range of performance history both together and separately.

It was a varied programme with nothing that was there to arrest or challenge the audience. Both the first and the last were composers who hovered in the shadows of much more famous figures: J S Bach and the Debussy-Ravel impressionist scene.

Johann Quantz’s claim to fame tends to be through his working around J S Bach and his son C P E; for Quantz was a favrouite musician in the court of Frederick the Great in the mid 18th century where C P E became court chamber musician. When, late in life, Bach went to Berlin through his son’s intermediation, it was clear that the King suffered J S with some indifference if not discourtesy (yet Bach responded by composing the Musical Offering for Frederick, based on the inhospitable tune that he was offered on which to improvise fugally). C P E Bach felt in the shadow of Quantz whose advantage was as a fine player of the king’s favourite instrument; he became court composer, ahead of Bach.

You don’t hear much of his music these days, unless you’re a flutist or flute groupie. Here, however was a nice chance. This, one of around 300 flute concertos, began with a chirpy tune on the piano (and you could sense its better fit with the harpsichord); the flute part was much embellished, light in spirit and enjoyed a cadenza towards the end. The same spirit really ruled the calmer middle movement where one became aware of Quantz’s pleasure in using widely spaced pitches in his tunes. The final movement, Allegro Vivace, certainly afforded Christy Hunter excellent opportunity to demonstrate her prowess and dexterity; here a melodic kinship with Handel rather than Bach struck me.

Nick then played one of Rachmaninov’s Preludes, from the first set, Op 23; though the programme note described it as almost contrapuntal, it’s character as essentially a set of variations was perhaps more evident. It was a polished and idiomatic performance.

Then he played his own solo piano piece inspired by twilight on Mount Ruapehu. It put me in mind of the famous passage in Lilburn’s essay A Search for Tradition (or was it the Search for a Language?) where he describes the experience of looking at the mountain as the night express from Wellington to Auckland passed in the moonlight (I have deep, nostalgic memories of that and many other evocative train journeys, now all gone, in our impoverished country), and he was awakened to the awareness of the remoteness of the European cultural world from New Zealand, and the need to create our own (though I have long felt the concern with cultural nationalism to be unhelpful).

However this was a most effective, impressionistic piece, suggesting not merely the jagged mountain peak but possibly an eruption.

Finally the two players returned to play one of those pieces that define the ‘one-hit-wonder’ composer: Jules Mouquet’s La flute de Pan. Born about half way between Debussy and Ravel he was winner of the Prix de Rome a couple of years after Debussy. Mouquet’s music is cast in a language in which those sounds are pretty inescapable, but it doesn’t diminish the effectiveness and originality of this three movement piece – a mini flute concerto. The refinement and colour of the playing by both flute and piano placed it clearly in the warm and luxuriant turn of the century era, unsullied as yet by Schoenbergian disturbances or world war a decade later. Both instruments exploited interesting ideas, moving about each other, always in balance and affording space for every detail be heard.

It was not a big audience but an appreciative one, and I hope the pair will accept another invitation to play in this splendid series.

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