FringeReview UK 2018
Niall O’Riordan and Anne Marshall’s flute and piano recital was built around Mel Bonis’ Flute Sonata, with works by O’Riordan’s mentor James Galway surrounding it. Saint-Saens’ Romance Op 37, two Irish folksongs and Gossec’s Tambourin.
Niall O’Riordan and Anne Marshall Piano stepped in at short notice to give a flute and recital and immediately it was hoped they’d return.
O’Riordan’s a protégé of Sir James Galway and it shows in his repertoire, his spoken homages and the high-lying repertoire he selects with Anne Marshall. Though Marshall too brings her repertoire. Her strong idiomatic feel for the underlying pianism of these pieces – the two most substantial were written by virtuoso pianists – is sovereign and clean-cut.
We started with a Galway standby: Saint-Saens’ Romance Op 37, so pretty early on, in the early 1870s when Saint-Saens was around 36. It almost makes up for Saint-Saens not having time to add a Flute Sonata to his last trio of wind sonatas written in the year of his death, 1921, and perhaps his most enduring chamber pieces. It’s a soulful piece with rippling accompaniment, a more severe Fauré perhaps (Fauré was his pupil). It builds melodically to a glissandi and running-note climax on both instruments to a point of trilling stillness; there’s a faint anticipation of the glowing nostalgia in those last three works. The wind-down is rather magical.
Next was the really substantial work in four movements by Mel Bonis (1858-1937). Women composers in France seem to have had a slightly easier time throughout the 19th century than elsewhere, partly because they could study at the Conservatoire: Louise Farrenc (1804-75), Pauline Viardot (1821-1910), Augusta Holmes (1847-193), Cécile Chaminande (1857-1944) and later famously Nadia (1887-1979) and Lili Boulanger, (1893-1918) and Germaine Tailleferre 91892-1983). There’s more attention paid to this fascinating and melancholic composer, forced to end her studies with César Franck (and sharing a bench with Debussy) by her father who married her off to an old man when romance blossomed at the conservatoire. But later she took her old lover, and a child ensued – a daughter who unknowingly fell in love with her half-brother till their mother had to reveal all. Esteemed by many including Franck and Debussy she emerged from her shackles to write over 300 works for all genres excluding opera.
She’s getting a big revival now. Bonis had a couple of Piano Quartets released on the Dabringhaus and Grimm label, and is getting a lot better known. This piece is on the net played in 2012 by William Bennett and the second movement Scherzo’s already on Grade 7.
The ardent opening movement is memorable, like Fauré if anyone, the piano writing occasionally suggesting Franck but not really. Various contemporaries like Chaminade and Gabriel Pierné come to mind but she’s more symphonic, though like both these composers a piano-led composer who’s superb at writing her signature on that instrument. She should be at least as well-known. the airy scherzo really is like one of Fauré’s or faintly even Poulenc’s Flute Sonata, with its arpeggiated rising chords. The slow movement’s another elegy, gentle, slowly winding to its end with an agitated central section. The Finale’s really catchy, a spiky Sicilienne-like movement, like Fauré’s Sicilienne in style, if anything. It’s a swirling rondo-form piece, and once heard not easily forgotten.
Two Galway’s lollipops ensued the soulful ‘Homeward’ and ‘Brian Bolu’s March’ a perky rumbustious piece with a craic in it somewhere. It’s infectious though not the end.
That was Belgian Francois-Joseph Gossec (17434-1829) pupil of the great baroque Jean-Philippe Rameau, two years younger than Haydn (whose symphonies he conducted) who taught the great rescue-opera composer Luigi Cherubini. He lived to see Cherubini’s wayward pupil Berlioz become Rameau reincarnated. He’s a far more substantial composer than his evergreen Tambourin suggests: a very Rameau title too. Generations of recorder-playing schoolchildren might have squeezed the life from this piece but Galway’s restored it. So has O’Riordan, emphasising its playful dance-like elements and the way it runs off into thin air.
Both exquisite and bravely stamping out a woman composer as centrepiece (which shouldn’t need commenting on), this is enchanting territory, enchantingly and stratospherically played.