FringeReview UK 2018
Emma Halnan flute and Heather Wrighton, harp perform music by Debussy, Rochester Young, Paul Lewis and Francois Bourne’s arrangement of Carmen with Bizet’s own Entr’acte as encore.
This is Wigmore Hall standard. The duo of Emma Halnan flute, and Heather Wrighton, harp have been performing since they met at the Royal Academy of Music in 2010. That was just after Halnan won the woodwind section of the BBC Young Musician of the Year.
Though the combination of flute and harp is frequent enough, not many duos dedicate themselves to it and here we have a remarkable chemistry and tonality-pushing that’s quite thrilling. In particular the harp’s asked to do things you’d not expect, and the arrangements are way beyond the usual pretty harmonies associated with this repertoire.
The duo began with an arrangement: Debussy’s Arabesque No. 1, which was telling not just for the languorous way its shaped the flute part like Debussy’s late solo flute Syrinx from 1913, but freighted the harp with spiky counterpoints and unexpected resolutions. This moved the 1890 Arabesque to that later one.
George Rochester Young (b. 1965) is a composer I’ve not encountered. he comes after that generation of gifted tonal academic US composers writing for winds, and is just a bit younger tan say Michael Torke. His Flight of the Lark is in three parts, hypnotically rising, then in a shock shift of tuning suddenly the harp zings like a gamelan and percussive instrument in one, though retaining other tunings. It’s a piece rooted in tonality and in tis evening soaring in the third movement arches into a quiet sublimity and quiet melodic patterns that really need repeat hearing to grasp. a bewitching attractive modern piece.
Paul Lewis (b. 1943) was there in person to explain the genesis of his Norfolk Idyll, inspired by a TV programme that featured Tarka the Otter writer Henry Williamson lamenting the vanishing of hedgerows when he returned after 25 years to a Norfolk he once farmed in. Dating from 1972, It’s already a repertoire piece and inviting of frequent performances which on the whole it gets. There’s a surprise though since it ends in a superb clamour a far cry from its melodic ambience. When Lewis is punchy, it’s often rather thrilling.
The official conclusion came with Francois Bourne’s Fantasie of Carmen with some remarkable shifts and passages, again featuring an interplay between the two instruments, something Halnan and Wrighton revel in. They reminded us too that this was often how opera throughout the 19th and into the 20th century was mostly savoured by those who couldn’t get to the opera house. This Fantasia is more than that though. It reinvents and shifts the harmonies to a modern pitch ad piquancy suggesting the dawning 20th century. Busoni was to make spiky thrilling use of the same material in his Sonatina No. 4 shortly later.
So it was fitting they concluded Bizet’s own Entr’acte from Carmen as encore, arranged but more purely recognizable as a straight transcription. This is truly first class music-making, alluring and scintillating, but with heart and adventure too.