Brighton Year-Round 2020
Sirius Chau and Irena Radic give a Flute and Piano Recital with a flute solo, Hurel’s Eolia. Elsewhere they play Kuhlau’s Introduction and Rondo Op 98a, Faure’s Fantasie Op 79, Casella’s Sicilienne et Burlesque Op 23, and Borne’s Carmen Fantasy.
No sooner than the solo flute recital of Marco Leung last week died away than we have another one though this time with a piano. Sirius Chau and Irena Radic on this showing – again from the Royal College of Music – are another brilliant duo.
Music colleges are turning out top-flight students with nowhere to go in these pinched times. It’s heartbreaking and you can only hope an international career beckons for those who through accident or opportunity don’t gain Wigmore Hall status immediately. Luckily as with Leung, this duo have time in hand.
Chau has a bright clean tone and happily an ability to play dirty as it were – in his solo. Beyond his silver-sculpted performance Radic has a strong profile, really powering the piano part to support Chau, clearly someone who has expressivity in reserve and could perform as a soloist.
First they play Freidrich Kuhlau’s Introduction and Rondo Op 98a (Sur Le Colporteur); a typically post-classical proto-Romantic mellifluous piece, ‘brilliante’ to the fore. Kuhnau’s (1786-1832) from the Field, Spohr Onslow Kulkbrenner and Weber generation of the 1780s, between Beethoven and Schubert. Kuhnau found fame in Denmark, writing attractive and often far more than attractive instrumental music.
In fact it’s Georges Onslow (1784-1853) Paris-dwelling son of a sexually disgraced British aristocrat and superb composer of 36 quartets and 34 quintets whose opera Le Colporteur (1827) supplied the themes his contemporary Kuhnau grasped on. More Germanic than French, Onslow’s chamber reputation has largely revived over the last 30 years, as has the less prolific Kuhlau’s.
After an imposing but never ponderous intro, they ripple off into a spinning top of Variations, often gossamer light, sometimes reflective and eddying. It’s a proper two-part work, though the Introduction is properly brief. The main theme is lightly melancholy and the minor’s emphasized – it’s not at all a cloudless scurry of entertainment. It’s clouds scurrying. And there’s a solo piano interlude five minutes in.
Gabriel Faure’s Fantasie Op 79 from June/July 1898 might have his fingerprinted melancholy but this is a surprising work for him, was created for the greatest 19th century flautist Paul Taffanel who ensured France and Paris was the flute’s home forever.
It’s far more exuberant than you might expect. Faure (1845-1924) had written Taffanel darker works but here consulting with him about how to stretch his pupils’ technique, they hit upon an Andantino with Fauré’s world to the fore, shadowed with the kind of incidental music Fauré wrote the same year for Pelléas et Mélisande. It then brisks off into a firecracker Allegro full of runs that let the piano rip on occasion but end in the flute’s highest, ringing register – generous in this church’s acoustic.
It’s a really satisfying work and should be even more to the fore in Fauré’s great list of chamber works, the most comprehensively satisfying perhaps of any French composer, with more hits even than Saint-Saens, Debussy, Ravel or Poulenc.
Russian-trained Alfredo Casella’s (1883-1945) undergone a huge revival and properly come out from under the shadow of his contemporary Respighi (who also trained with Rimsky-Korsakov). Part of the first truly instrumental generation of Italian composers, including Pizzetti and Malipiero, Casella started with vast things to say in his recently re-celebrated Symphony No. 2 (of 1907-11), which triumphantly takes on Mahler’s scale. Though more energetically neo-classical later Casella remained expressive and powerful to his early death. His Sicilienne et Burlesque Op 23 from 1914 still breathes that large pre-war world where his great gifts exploded onto the stage.
It’s a fine evocation of something quasi-oriental (we can recall Edward Said’s warnings of cultural appropriation) in the slight pentatonic shifts of the slow opening. It’s even clearer in an orchestral version. In fact there’s more than a hint of folk-song in this opening, and one analogue – they sound uncannily alike – might be Respighi’s Fountains of Rome, written in 1916, when evoking slow midday heat. Casella got there first. This is a truly impressive dark-thewed work, with the flute as anxious commentator on dark things lurking in the piano or orchestra. A few runs presage an escape attempt of sorts, though the Sicilienne shows where this is going.
It ought to. It’s far swifter than any French cultural snatch of the genre you might here, including Fauré’s in – yes, Pelléas et Mélisande. This Casella version is an earth-stamping feet fleet movement, the flute trilling its speed over the stamps in the piano bass going – it seems – in 68 time, the great signature of all things galumphing. It ends with a bracing race to the finish.
Phillippe Hurel’s Eolia a solo flute work from 1981, is astonishing. Last week we had Brian Ferneyhough’s Cassandra’s Dream Song from 1970. Hurel (b. 1955) is a composer of the post-Boulez generation, eight years younger than Tristan Murail, for instance, and exact contemporary of Psacal Dusapin. Of his three greatest contemporaries Gérard Grisey (1946-98) the fractals composer was the most important and Hurel’s 1999 Tombeau for him is particularly moving. With Eolia the soloist is required to blast words in a micro-second interruption whilst blowing them through the flute, rather like Judo shouts. At the same time a recognizable legato swims across as the work interrupted twice more and spins out in etiolated but recognizable fashion.
It’s still the Parisian flute’s world though. The lyric flute, even rinsed through Boulez’s initial total serialism has softened and the post-war school grown recognizably French again – Boulez’s own conducting became more perfumed with each recording of Le Marteau sans Maitre (1955), and Stockhausen for instance more Germanic and Wagnerian with vast operas. National characteristics despite Darmstadt’s and even their founders’ attempts, became nationally-inflected again.
I say this as there’s a lot of misconception about contemporary music. Those heady experimental days of total serialism and electronic music are generations gone. It’s not minimalism that Europe always reacts to but in Hurel a world of disturbed pastoral ideolects, a language of near-hieroglyphic squiggles regain a skewed innocence.
François Borne (1840-1920) is completely unknown to me and seems to have found fame as the first composer/arranger to tackle a Fantasie on those themes on Bizet’s Carmen that countless others tackled, including Ferrucio Busoni, Vladimir Horowitz, Franz Waxman and Rodion Shchedrin.
And it’s quite a winner – starting with an introduction that doesn’t own any famous themes at all, and only moves later towards them. It really is a Fantasie not a pot-pourri. There’s plenty of air for the flute, and runs for the piano. I find it’s very well-known and you can see why: it’s a creative response and the duo here relish that unfamiliarity.
This is a top-flight young duo, hungry for adventure and repertoire, and refusing the easy sonata ballasts of Prokofiev and Poulenc, brilliant as these are. A terrific journey. We need more of this.