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Brighton Year-Round 2022

Ensembouquet – Flute Violin & Piano Recital


Genre: Live Music

Venue: St Nicholas Brighton, Dyke Road


Low Down

Ensembouquet is a variable ensemble with a core of flautist Karen Wong, Violinist Yuriko Matsuda and pianist Mo Suet NG.


Ensembouquet is a variable ensemble with a core of flautist Karen Wong, Violinist Yuriko Matsuda and pianist Mo Suet NG. They’ve won a string of prizes between them as soloists.

Today they offer J. S. Bach, Mélanie Bonis, César Cui and Philippe Gaubert. France is the home of the flute (just as the clarinet’s migrated to Britain from Germany, the viola essentially British, with the oboe shared between Britain and France).

J. S. Bach’s Flute Sonata in E minor BWV1034 is an elegant if relatively minor work with the usual slow-fast-slow-fast pattern published in 1724, but written in his great instrumental period at Kothen (1717-23), just before he started his lifetime job in Leipzig.

So an adagio ma non tanto – sort of pretty slow – and andante (walking pace) alternating with prancing allegros. It’s a finely-boned work of melancholic energy despite itself: full of dancing counterpoint which Wong breathed a  crystalline arc into, a halo of sound where NG coped superbly with a pointilistic counterpoint hampered very slightly by the otherwise light Avian French piano at St Nicholas; which isn’t ideal for the baroque. There’s a winning flow and an absolute command of idiom with these two.

Mélanie Bonis’ Suite en trio Op 59 (1903) is one of those works being rediscovered as this composer over the past decade finally receives her due. A fellow pupil of Debussy and  Pierné with César Franck their teacher, Bonis was early on prevented from studying further by her family but subverted this (through a banned affair she happily re-engaged in later) and flourished. She’s particularly celebrated for a pair of Piano Quartets.

Her work has much in common here with flute-composer Philippe Gaubert (see below) though she has a far wider palette and can be compared to Cecile Chaminade whose Flute Concertino is perhaps the best-known French flute piece apart from Debussy’s Syrinx and Sonata for flute Viola and Harp; even more than Ibert’s Flute Concerto. Bonis wrote much for flute, including a Flute Sonata, and you can tell she knows as much as a flute specialist like Gaubert.

Bonis doesn’t bring a great arching melody but is memorable enough, and beautifully freighted in the trio, with Matsuda’s violin acting as a true chamber partner and never outsoaring the other two instruments. Indeed all these are flute-led works.

The Sérenade is indeed a work in little: lilting and tuneful, with the Pastorale slowing things to an etched landscape, with the Scherzo one of those exuberant French scamperings the Parisian flute excels in. Most of all there’s the sonance the sheer beauty of sound these three instruments make together, crafting an individual sound-world.

César Cui (1835-1918) is known as the least of the five composers of The Mighty Handful – the others being their leader Balakirev, Borodin, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov. Cui was a general in the Russian army, the second-oldest, outliving all the others. Best known for his fragrant 25 Preludes for piano, he wrote much good if not outstanding work, and there are a few gems.

His Petite Duos Op 56 actually contain some characterful work too. The opening Badinage is delightfully off-beat and chirpy, the Berceuse predictably gentle but with an etched arc of song to it, a Scherzino that skitters, a Nocturne that’s subtle, shaded and elusive, and finally a relatively unemphatic Waltz.

Wong’s flute is again incisive and describes these rather pastel pieces with a flash of aural neon, as Matsuda and NG colour a neatly Russian palette that sounds, like the composer’s name, full of that ironic love of French culture despite France itself battering Russia in 1812.

Philippe Gaubert’s Médalles antiques is a fragrant offering from a quintessence of French flute playing. Gaubert’s only peer is Paul Taffanel who inspired some 20th century masterpieces. We even have recordings and Gaubert’s the perfect marriage of composer and performer. The title tells you it’s close to poet Pierre Luoys’ Chansons de Bilitis set by Debussy; a modest pendant to that composer’s eroticism.

Wong gets this and colours her palette with a delicacy this work deserves. NG supplies it on an authentic French piano, with its filigree accompaniment. Matsuda has less to do but it’s as if a glint’s rainbowed in the waterfall of this work.

Gaubert himself is more conservative, though being born 1879 he’s post-Debussy, Emanuel, Pierné, Ropartz, Satie, Roussel, Schmitt, Ravel, Dupont (died young), Cras (an admiral with a sliver of genius), Grovelet and the rest. Only Emanuel, Pierné, Ropartz, all over 15 years his senior, share his attractive fin-de-belle-epoque sound-world.

‘Nymphes a la Fontaine’ is a whirling piece literally like frozen music as it evokes a shimmering spray of sexuality and mild decadence: a fresh, very French languor. ‘Danses’ whirls delightfully away though this will never break into a more modern  – or even Saint-Seans-like – bacchanale.

In all a consummate recital of mostly rare works, and it’s hoped by several this trio will return next season.