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Brighton Year-Round 2020

Marco Leung Solo Flute Recital

Marco Leung

Genre: Live Music, Music

Venue: St Nicholas Church, Dyke Road, Brighton


Low Down

Marco Leung plays solo flute works by Debussy, Marin Marais, Eugene Bozza, Chen Yi, Yuko Uebayashi, Brian Ferneyhough and Ian Clarke.


Marco Leung isn’t someone I’ve encountered before but is already a high-flyer who knows how to engage an audience with his sometimes unusual repertoire. He’s also provided his own programme with notes on how to experience the music. He’s a complete package and refreshingly knows exactly what he’s about.

Leung plays solo flute works by Debussy, Marin Marais, Eugene Bozza, Chen Yi, Yuko Uebayashi, Brian Ferneyhough and Ian Clarke.

Syrinx is the 1913 standby for all solo flautists and introduces Leung’s quality of bright projection with overlays of something more intangible, was set. These came to the fore aft the more solidly centred Marin Marais piece from 1701, high baroque variations on the ever teasing ever mad La Folia. Maris famed for his viol compositions is here represented by the next darling of rEnch instruments, the flute which continues to reside somehow in Paris voer three centuries later. The drone quality of the main theme, the ever-more frenetic variations indeed suggesting ‘madness’ in the Spanish original from the 15th century, are brought out with a virtuosic display of melodic shifts, tempi, a baroque sense of rewilding language.

Eugene Bozza (1905-91) specialised in flute and chamber composition, and in Image from 1939 clearly here takes from Debussy and th subsequent neo-classical cut of post-WW! French music. He’s of the half-generation after the lighter-toned Les Six inspired by Satie in part, led by Poulenc and Milhaud. Bozzo’s the exact contemporary of Jolivet, slightly older than those organ-centred composers Messaien, Langalis, Alain – the group known as Jeune France, though Alain was a bit younger (1911-40) killed in the war. They embraced new seriousness and Bozza though slightly more inclined to both groups followed a more evocative, melodically post-romantic route. This is attractive music, exploratory, introducing some of the techniques the alter pieces will blow open: there’s hints of enharmonic notes and a different kind of breathing to allow a more expansive musical language. There’s a quiet melodic distinction too.

We leap forward to Chen Yi’s Memory from 2011, and one inscribed to the memory of a beloved teacher. It’s certainly a memorial. Chinese composer Chen Yi born 1953 is a violinist and performs Memory on the violin. He’s transposed here for several instruments from the original including cello and here flute. Leung’s intensely evocative, keeping to high tessitura as in the original, creating a more tonal enharmonic perhaps for the crunchier sound the violin makes and allowing the sadness to seep in. The flurries particularly suit the flute. There’s more drama and grief in the violin. Leung makes this fragility beautifully his own.

Yuko Uebayashi’s 1999 piece Le Vent a Traveres Les Ruines tell you nearly everything. A contemporary piece of programme music written in a French environment with French sonance saturating the textures. It’s a haunting evocation too, fully the equal of the work it’s yoked to without an interval. It depends more on colour and fining down so the melody itself wanders and breaks through the gravestones butterflies and scudding clouds we’re invited to consider as analogues.

Brian Ferneyhough’s 1970 Cassandra’s Dream Song provoked astonished stifled laughter from the young couple next to me. It was better suited to the genuinely comic piece that closed the concert next. I thought of all sorts of inventive ways they might quietly leave to explore their loss of innocence in the adjoining graveyard, and evoke the previous piece there.

Ferneyhough to the innocent is a phenomenon. His 77th birthday – he was born January 16th 1943 – happens to fall a day after this concert, and he was for several years based at Sussex University before relocating to Berlin like others of the New Complexity School, which include Michael Finnissy (1946) still resident her, and Rebecca Saunders (1967) also in Berlin.

Ferneyhough is the most dazzling and complex British composer, indeed in Europe. Saunders in her very different way develops the next generation’s response to that. Europe is more receptive to modernism, not post-modernism, since post-war modernism returning in full force after a neo-classical hiatus, didn’t catch on here for long – itself radiated from the centre of France Belgium and Germany where it started from 1945 with the likes of Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Bruno Maderna, Luciano Berio and soon a litany of great colleagues.

Ferneyhough is a maximalist though and takes their total serialism down a venturi tube and does something like bend it into different dimensions. You can tell a Ferneyhough piece and even this early his trademark use of high skittering fractured notes like filaments of nerves are condensed into this telling of how Cassandra went back on her sexual bargain with Apollo – wrung from her, Gods behaving Weinstein – in Cassandra’s Dream Song. Here she revolves her curse after her gift, the prophesy gift turned to never being believed.

There’s much use of a sharp tonguing technique like a hard tcch down the flute, the kind you’re meant to make in a surgery to test your lung capacity. It’s wistful for Ferneyhough, delicate with nightmare and wholly compelling in its swoops and recoveries, and ultimately a sad consolatory language of dismissal.

It’s like hearing your own frantic brainwaves too, a visceral demanding striving of spirit to escape its confines. No wonder Ferneyhough’s later multi-piece Carciere d’Invenzione from 1982-87 – Prisons of Invention, inspired by Fuseli’s vertiginous drawings – is about knowing the human condition in the prison of her days. This 1970 piece heralded a start of that journey. Ferneyhough’s superscription, I think from Fuseli summarizes: ‘How can man, being what he is, apprehend his confines, being what it is.’

Finally Ian Clarke (b. 1964) is a standard in nearly every flautist’s repertoire so chances are you’ll have hear such dippy melodic pieces like Spiral for instance from 2002. He’s a master flautist and expands his compositional base from that instrument. This work is less serious than his lighter pieces. Zoom Tube from 1999 s exuberant, irreverent, using all those flutter-tongue circular breathing and other modern techniques as literally a tongue-in-cheek introduction to exuberance and fabulous, outrageous technique in this poppy zippy pop-song concoction of melodic brio. And a great way to prove Leung gets it. The young couple now rightly led the laughter punctuating Leung’s cheery performance. He was clearly delighted everyone else got it too. Someone you want back.