Brighton Year-Round 2019
Flautist Hannah Creswell and pianist Constance Chow’s recital takes in a reduction of Debussy’s L’Aprés-Midi d’un faune, Schubert’s Introduction and (seven) Variations on Trockne Blumen D802 and Poulenc’s 1958 Sonata.
Flautist Hannah Creswell and pianist Constance Chow have been playing together around a year. Their recital takes in a reduction of Debussy’s L’Aprés-Midi d’un faune, Schubert’s Introduction and (seven) Variations on Trockne Blumen D802 and that stalwart of the flute repertoire Poulenc’s 1958 Sonata.
St Nicholas hosts yet another duo of fresh talent. Creswell’s tone as a flautist is less consciously French than some, more straight yet floaty: there’s a British school too and though Creswell plays French repertoire extensively here there’s a refreshing directness about her playing.
Chow was here on 12th June for a solo recital. She’s played extensively in the UK and internationally. Hong Kong-born Chow gave a piano recital full of reverie and variations, with the surprise coming first. Chow’s tone is bright and full, given less help here than it might by the otherwise excellent French Elysian piano.
Debussy’s 1894 L’Aprés-Midi d’un faune is taken as the beginning of 20th century music. It’s an intriguing reduction, and here Creswell more than conjures the flute-line of the orchestral original; she take son some of the heft too. Chow meanwhile has to etch in an orchestral language through tonal colour and shimmering percussiveness alone. You really don’t miss the ubiquitous original and here catch it fresh, as if x-rayed with musical radium so we can read – and enjoy – a beguiling structure for the first time.
Schubert’s Introduction and (seven) Variations on Trockne Blumen D802 dates from 1824, just before his A minor quartet D804. So his chamber music phase was asserting itself, and this work is a pretty effective warm-up. Schubert had ben subjected to Rossini’s influence for about 10 years, and it shows in his Introduction – not so much a lieder-melody as a kind of operatic aria, airy, arc-like and long-breathed: Italianate rather than just Rossini but it sets a challenge to Schubert’s Viennese self: seven graceful variations by turns decisive, reflective, gentle, extrovert. Creswell and Chow emphatically leave a pause between variations, so its long-breathed elements don’t blur into each other. This is exemplary, crystalline musicianship. The end’s a triumph of gradated clamour.
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.
Creswell’s tone doesn’t feather into some Watteau-esque reach – Poulenc referenced Watteau and he’s a kind of Apollonian go-to in this repertoire – she keeps a steady lyric grace focused on the melodic curve.
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. Creswell’s tone is bright, uninhibited, but decisive too. Chow as ever brisks counterpoint with her accustomed aplomb.
Another absolutely first-class chamber recital in the heart of Brighton, as the leaflet says. We don’t know our luck.