Brighton Year-Round 2019
Anne Hodgson’s and Nick Houghton’s flute and piano recital takes in Handel’s Sonata Op 1/7, Rutter’s Suite Antique, Chopin’s Rossini Variations and Poulenc’s Sonata.
Some musicians at Chapel Royal we’re in danger of taking for granted, such is the calibre of returnees like Anne Hodgson and Nick Houghton who gave a flute and piano recital.
Hodgson enjoys a superbly burnished tone with a flexibility in say the variations on display matched by Houghton’s pianism (we also know him as a renowned organist); but also in long cantabile lines, and a lyric grace one can only describe as French: light, but plangent, flexible and liquid. This might describe most flute-players but here Hodgson makes it airborne rather than breathy.
Their first piece was the preserve of period players till reclaimed by contemporary performers: Handel’s Flute Sonata in C Op 1 No 7 HWV 365 from around 1712. It’s surprising, in five not four movements. A typical Larghetto, pretty slow serves wistfully as an introduction though ends with a one-bar adagio in G, when also in C major the Allegro takes off, a straightforward brisk chirpiness then we’re back to a Larghetto but in a minor, the heart of the work, with the kind of heart-stopping shudder in operas like Ricardo written at the same time. Concluding with an E major chord this takes us into a Gavotte in three sections back in C major, a movement you don’t associate with Handel but edges his chamber music. It’s the extra movement and finally we’re back to an Allegro still in C, and bustling us towards the end.
John Rutter’s 1979 Suite Antique is a superb example of his lighter classical vein, one perfectly tailored for this combo though also written for flute harpsichord and strings. It’s about time all the musical world enjoyed the best of composer like Rutter as much as some of us can thrill to Brian Ferneyhough’s flute works. The Suite’s six movements are a delight. The slow-breathed Prelude yearns in an open lyricism heard in the best pastoral film music before moving to baroque syncopations. It’s a great tune, one of Rutter’s very best The hyper-syncopated Ostinato owns a chirruping holidaying summer-music feel, whereas the Aria explores depths and again an ancient summer’s lassitude with cantabile lines and quiet radiance. It’s a bit like Britten’s Sentimental Sarabande from his Simple Symphony and this work isn’t dissimilar though more consciously Bachian (sheep safely grazing in mid-shot). The game Waltz is an individually-turned character piece, more pop baroque and really catchy, again TV themes come to mind but there’s a lyrical pause. The Chanson’s a more plangent movement with a simple Chaminade-like melody and a French late 19th century salon feel edged with the arcane: perfect for Hodgson’s lyricism. The Rondeau’s more detailed than a single-hearted romp. Again there’s more syncopation and a delicate contrapuntalism that’s memorable and neatly-worked. Really satisfying.
Chopin’s Variations on a Theme of Rossini is where we really se the fluent interplay between these soloists show their virtuosity’s just that pitch higher than many. It’s thrilling even if aearly Chopin on a wisp of a great tune night seem light fare. Not here though. The theme of these brilliant variations comes from the aria ‘Non più mesta accanto al fuoco’ – the finale of Rossini’s La Cenerentola (Cinderella). Chopin’s flirt with the flute shows he could have gone on in this vein, but it’s one he left to others. Expert, neat and satisfying variations they are too, with a touch roe musical matter than you’d expect. It helps there’s a bloody good tune there too of course.
Finally the great staple of the flute repertoire, the 1956-58 Flute Sonata. At this point Boulez was proclaiming tonality unnecessary, and Stockhausen that tunes were fascist. Mm. Yet Poulenc despite his local difficulties has endured, and this high-pitched lyrical gasp of French flute tradition – almost its last – sails from a very high tessitura almost as a windless defiance against the gusts of fashion, particularly in the opening movement. There’s grit too though in the counter-melody, and in the slow movement an aching nostalgia for a period somewhere between strife. The long-breathed lines demand immaculate control and receive them here. Just as that last injection of high-kinks and monks playing football and boys with their tongues out – two of Poulenc’s favourite images latterly – inform the finale. It’s rumbustious, defiant, affirmative, almost entre-deux-guerres.
An absolutely first-class chamber recital in the middle of Brighton. We probably don’t know our luck.