Brighton Fringe 2018
One of the 12.30 Wednesday slots flautist Meera Maharaj and pianist Dominic Degavino are new artists. Maharaj is back on September 20th at All Saints with guitarist James Girling.
I’ve not seen twenty-two year old flautist Meera Maharaj and the equally youthful pianist Dominic Degavino,both studying at the Royal Northern College of Music, but this sparkling and innovative recital more than puts them on the map. It’s not just the extraordinary artistry – and we’ve seen fine flautist and woodwind players at this venue recently – it’s their choice of repertoire and careful crafting of a programme that in forty-five minutes gives a world of the flute without bringing in Debussy’s Syrinx of other beautifully roasted chestnuts.
Both are fine verbal communicators though Degavino’s anchored to the piano. Maharaj like several flautists (and clarinetists) is an enormously expressive player onstage, swaying and expressing a oneness with her instrument. There’s a fearlessness about both that’s refreshing in younger players (often understandably careful) and they’d clearly need sovereign technique to push themselves; well they have.
The flute’s a French thing. Paul Taffanel was one of the greatest flautists and here one of his older colleagues Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937) creates a fresh engaging Suite acoustic years from his ten organ symphonies. It’s very much part of his chamber music world, equally distinguished, like his Piano Quintet. This piece gives us not just four contrasting movements but strange eddies within them.
So we start with an Allegro of sorts which in Maharaj’s hands bursts into sudden slow cantilenas before suddenly realigning its musical argument, both light and vehement where required. A feathery breathy scherzo follows then an Adagio with a kind of trio in it. It’s eventful and fluid, suddenly veering to speed and then pitching up at the swirl of slowness that envelops this, at a high tessitura. The finale’s a romp, but again textured and not at all the kind of easy rondo you’d expect.
It’s difficult to place Widor’s chamber-music language clearly. A year older than Fauré he sounds like him, more than the superb bombaster of say the fifth, sixth of seventh organ symphonies.
Next Degavino played a solo of his own, Schubert’s Impromptu D 899 No. 1 in C minor. This is like the pianist announced, from 1827 and around the time of the bleakly existential song cycle Wintereisse. Here it sounds like a miniature of several songs at once, starting with a declamatory chord then following with an incredibly soft mournful slow march in the treble. Degavino coaxes for the most part miracles from the St Nicholas piano which has surprised many with its excellent quality when reconditioned. Every element in this traversal was telling in a way I don’t remember, including the build-up to tragic grandeur, almost a cry, without too much pedalling; then a slow diminuendo and a return to the opening material.
The contemporary Dutch composer Will Offermans produced a visual in his Hanami for solos flute. That’s not only the Takahashi Japanese flute, but the eddy of wind visible over rice-fields from the mountains. The structure of this piece is indescribable, so let’s see: a breath rather than melodic focus, a Japanese sonority that’s fairly familiar to the west now; a sudden repeated melodic phrase that’s insistent and subjected to a whole range of techniques that Maharaj deploys including at one point circular breathing, and a brief appearance of flutter-tongue. In the main though its surprisingly melodic, evocative inevitably, and showing Maharaj’s tonal range to its widest possible advantage.
Jakob Gade (1879-1963) sounds as if he’s from the famous Danish composing dynasty but no, he’s damned forever for writing the Jalousie Tango in 1925. He’s now known for having written some extraordinary music but this Tango Fantasia’s a kind of elaboration of his original great tune. Maharaj and Degavino unashamedly cavort in its wild and whacky syncopations, the sheer slink and slide of the melody and exaggerated accents swung round the dance floor. It’s virtuoso stuff, extrovert and sexy, mildly outrageous fun.
This was one of the most exciting flute recitals I’ve attended. Maharaj is back on September 20th at All Saints with guitarist James Girling, like her another RNCM student.