Flute Vox – CD Review

Artist/s:  Laura Chislett (flute); Stephanie McCallum (piano); Thomas Jones (violin)

Category:  Classical, New Music

Label:   ABC Classics

Reviewed by Karen Anne Lonsdale


Flute Vox is a compilation of concert works for flute, alto flute, bass flute and piccolo, featuring Laura Chislett, one of Australia’s foremost interpreters of contemporary flute music.  The Latin word ‘vox’ means ‘voice’ and Laura Chislett named the CD Flute Vox flute-vox“because the project ‘gives voice’ to the flute, showcasing its versatility and expressive potential” in addition to her interest in “the sounds created by simultaneous singing and playing on the flute”. The title also reflects Chislett’s acknowledgement of two works which are included on the CD:  Vox Box for amplified bass flute by Australian composer Mark Zadro, as well as Voice for solo flute by the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu.   The range of repertoire on the two CDs spans several decades from Edgard Varèse’s Density 21.5 (1936; revised 1946) to Michael Smetanin’s Backbone: for solo flute and multi-tracked fixed media sound (2015).  

The CD set features flute pieces by numerous prominent Australian composers including Julian Yu, Michael Smetanin, Katia Tiutiunnik, Mark Zadro, Brett Dean, Rosalind Page, Elena Kats-Chernin.  The compilation also includes a solo piano work, Four Episodes for Piano (2010) by Gerald Glynn performed by the distinguished Australian pianist Stephanie McCallum.

Chislett demonstrates her excellent command of a range of extended flute techniques in Toru Takemitsu’s Voice for solo flute (1971), Mark Zadro’s Vox Box for amplified bass flute (2001), Rosalind Page’s Courbe dominante (2006) for flute with pre-recorded sound, and Brett Dean’s Demons for solo flute (2004).  The technical agility and bird-like characteristics of the flute, have inspired other works in this compilation, including English composer Edward Cowie in his A Charm of Australian Finches for flute and piano (1993), as well as Julian Yu’s Sonata for Flute and Piano (2004).

Contrasting the technical feats required in these works is the exquisite lyricism heard in the Persian Suite (2002) for flute and piano by composer Reza Vali.   The suite is the twelfth set of Persian folk songs written by Vali who was born in Persia (Iran), and is now based in the USA.

Chislett plays with warmth and expressivity in the hauntingly beautiful melodies in Blue Silence (2006) by Elena Kats-Chernin and The Quickening: A Tribute to Jonathon Kramer for flute and piano (2005) by Katia Tiutiunnik.  Chislett is joined by her husband, violinist Thomas Jones in a soulful performance of Kats-Chernin’s Wedding Suite (1996) for flute and violin, which was composed for the couple’s wedding day.

Flute enthusiasts are sure to enjoy this eclectic selection of concert pieces, as well as the superb playing by all of the artists on Flute Vox.

Karen Anne Lonsdale

7 May 2016


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The Art of Elegant Conversation – Elysium Ensemble

Review by Angus McPherson

Johann Joachim Quantz (1697-1773)

Sei Duetti, op. 2 (1959)


  The Art of Elegant Conversation, a recording of Johann Joachim Quantz’s Sei Duetti by Greg Dikmans and Lucinda Moon of the Elysium Ensemble, is the first of a series of recordings intended to promote newly discovered and hitherto neglected chamber music from the Baroque and early-Classical periods. Despite the fame Quantz enjoys in the flute community, particularly for his treatise Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen (1752) and some of his better-known sonatas and concertos, much of his vast compositional output remains unpublished and unrecorded. Performed on period instruments and informed by a close study of the Versuch, this CD is a thoughtful and sensitive exploration of Quantz’s rarely performed Sei Duetti.   From 1741 until his death in 1773, Quantz served in the court of King Frederick II of Prussia, a flute player and an avid music lover. Quantz was Frederick’s flute teacher and was responsible for the King’s private chamber music concerts; he was also the only member of the court permitted to critique the King’s flute playing. Written as didactic works (in his preface to the score, Quantz extolls the virtues of playing duets as an important part of a musician’s training) it is not impossible that the Sei Duetti were first played by Quantz and King.   Although Quantz composed these duets for two flutes, in his preface he outlines a number of different possible instrumental combinations, writing: “In general, duets as well as trios produce a better and more intelligible effect on two instruments of different type than upon instruments of the same kind.” The combination of flute and violin used in this recording is particularly effective. The two distinct timbres provide clarity between the voices, allowing the listener to follow Quantz’s two-part writing and enhancing the impression of a sophisticated dialogue. Dikmans and Moon form a crisp, well-balanced ensemble, their parts weaving independently at times before joining together in perfectly synchronised flourishes. The result is beautiful, engaging and far more interesting than one would expect from over an hour of flute duets.   This CD will be fascinating for those interested in the music of Quantz and the style that straddles the end of the Baroque and beginning of the Classical period. Well-researched and insightful, this performance is also an excellent example of the practical applications of the study of Quantz’s Versuch. A PDF scan of the first edition of the score, from 1759, is available from the International Music Score Library Project for those who want to delve more deeply into this music.   The Art of Elegant Conversation is a charming, multifaceted recording that will delight both casual listeners and aficionados of historically informed performance. Dikmans and Moon have taken Quantz’s duets, deceptively light on the surface, and turned them into a conversation that is stimulating as well as elegant.   The Art of Elegant Conversation is available from Resonus Classics and iTunes.

All articles and reviews published on this website are representative of the opinions of the author/s alone and do not reflect the opinions of FTA or it’s affiliates

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Monologues and Dialogues – Peter Sheridan | Low Flutes

Monologues & Dialogues is Peter Sheridan’s new album featuring fourteen compositions for low flutes. Throughout the album, Peter performs on alto, bass, contrabass and hyperbass flutes, creating a showcase of the instruments pitched below the C flute. The project draws out many contrasts – the diverse ranges of the instruments, the various aesthetics and styles represented by each of the fourteen composers and the different (and sometimes surprising) roles that each instrument is asked to play.

The disc opens with Madelyn Byrne’s haunting In a Winter Landscape. The piece is a looming and mournful exploration of the bass flute as a melodic instrument paired with a largely sustained, synthesizer-ish electronic track. Directly following the Byrne, Ross Edwards’ classic, jiving solo Ulpirra appears, performed on alto flute. The spritely energy that Sheridan brings to this incarnation of Ulpirra (a piece generally heard in a higher register on recorder, piccolo and C flute) leaves no doubt as to the agility of the alto flute. These two opening tracks set the scene for the world of contrasting roles that will appear in variations throughout the album; that is, the roles of melodic, highly agile, “flutish” playing versus explorations into gritty sounds, percussive techniques and the timbral idiosyncrasies of these less common instruments.

Returning to the looming, other-worldly vibe of the opening track, Adrienne Albert’s Three for Two presents a number of sides to how the alto and bass flute can each interact with the contrabass flute as a duo. Albert opens the piece with bass flute and contrabass flute assuming roles of ornamented melody and sustained drone, respectively. Of note in this section of the movement is the use of voice in the contrabass part. We hear Sheridan singing and playing the slow, growling line, creating an amazingly striking, otherworldly landscape of difference tones and harmonics over the contrabass’s almost subsonic lower tessitura. Albert slashes straight into a contrasting B-section that depicts (for this author, at least) a slightly sinister carousel ride before the languid opening landscape returns and rolls into some gorgeous, rumbling, trilling harmonic sweeps on the contrabass. This is another amazing side of the contrabass’s sound world: the smoothness of the transition between rumbling low harmonics and flitting high ones is just sensational.

Gary Schocker’s Dark Star is a lilting look at bass flute and piano through a traditional, flute-as-melody piano-as-accompaniment lens, giving Sheridan the chance to show off some supple phrasing. Jane Hammond sensitively performs the impressionist-influenced piano part.

I find it a little difficult not to let my mind wander while listening to this particular track on the album. There’s something about many of Schocker’s compositions, including this one, that send me window gazing and I’m not too sure whether to call it a good or a bad thing.

Noisy Oyster is Hilary Taggart’s suite that features each of the alto, bass and contrabass flutes in five solo vignettes. Taggart has structured the movements such that the first and last movements are played on alto flute, the second and fourth on bass, and the middle movement on contrabass, creating a symmetrical fall then rise in pitch range over the course of the piece. The title movement, Noisy Oyster, is a jaunty little scene akin to Arthur Honegger’s Danse de la Chevre with something of a bubbling, seaside bent. It is interesting to see how much agility Taggart demands of each of the different sizes of flute. The alto and bass flute are both treated in a manner akin to writing for C flute, but Zephyr, the contrabass movement is much more of a study in the instrument’s idiomatic qualities. The opening phrase moves slowly through the contrabass’s low register, articulated with small amounts of key noise and a raspy tone. This is then juxtaposed immediately with a high phrase, demonstrating the contrabass’s extremely diverse palette of tone colours.

Vaughan McAlley’s Serenade and Burlesque is a playful set of two movements that demonstrate the low flutes in a traditional flute choir setting. Lisa Maree Amos’s appearance on C flute lends a soaring energy to the ensemble.

It’s interesting to note that Sheridan recorded each of the low flute parts himself by multi-tracking each one separately. This is a pretty cool idea and is mostly very effective but there are moments (for this author), such as on the last note of the Burlesque movement which doesn’t have a completely clean cut off, where working with a live ensemble might have given the recording a bit more of an edge.

[Listen to excerpt from Serenade and Burlesque]

Michal Rosiak’s rocking low flute quartet Quasi Latino was recorded in the same manner (i.e. all parts performed by Sheridan, multitracked) and has a very strong sense of ensemble. The piece uses the percussive key slap sounds of the lowest pitched member of the ensemble to suggest a slap bass to great effect. The piece’s zany, mixed meter material and the burbling and chugging of the low flutes suggests something of a Martian Latin band.

Vincent Giles Differing Dialogues is another adventure through the wilder sounds that the low flutes bring to the table. The piece has a certain sinister feeling, particularly once the trilling, flutter-tongue drum rolls signify the beginning of the march of doom into a shrieking, macabre forest. Giles paints an amazing landscape exploiting so many of the wondrous extended techniques offered by the instrumentation.

Addressing a completely different aesthetic are Stanley M. Hoffman’s Meditations and Memories, a restful, gorgeous and almost plainchant-like duet for alto flutes, and David Loeb’s Winter Sarabande, a hauntingly beautiful bass flute solo. These pieces each explore the melodically expressive side of the instruments as does Houston Dunleavy’s Serenade and Mike Mower’s Two Sonnets. The Mower is a dreamy and heartfelt piece that brings together elements of jazz and impressionism to create a landmark set for alto flute, occasionally reminiscent of Roussel’s Joueurs de Flute. Sheridan’s sensitivity to the phrasing shines through in each of these pieces, demonstrating his ability to approach the low flutes from a supremely musical angle.

To experience Dominy Clements’ Groaning Oceans as the penultimate track on this disc is joyously unsettling. The wild feast of electronic sounds and hyperbass flute leave one feeling a little vertigo with its wide, slow soundscape. This is a piece that very excellently pulls together some of the most wonderful sounds that Sheridan and the hyperbass flute concoct together and should optimally be enjoyed in a dark room lying on the floor.

[Listen to excerpt from Groaning Oceans]

Monologues and Dialogues is a CD whose strength lies in the achievements that abound in each track rather than as a whole album. The many disparate styles and aesthetics represented are sometimes a little incongruous when heard consecutively, but that should not take away from the wealth of care and expertise that has been put in by Sheridan and each of his collaborators – composers, performers et al. This is a disc that will teach you a great deal about what lies beneath the C flute and is a fine musical achievement to boot.

CD Track Listings (from Move)
1. In a winter landscape Madelyn Byrne 5:27
2. Ulpirra Ross Edwards 1:32
Three for Two Adrienne Albert
3. Dark and light 4:20
4. Lament for Sarah 4:13
5. Sassy 2:35
6. Dark Star Gary Schocker 3:35
Noisy Oyster Hilary Taggart
7. Noisy Oyster 1:59
8. Defragmented 2:12
9. Zephyr 3:43
10. Partita 2:30
11. Autumn Leaves 1:42
Serenade and Burlesque Vaughan McAlley
12. 2:35
13. 2:14
14. Meditations and Memories Stanley M. Hoffman 3:53
15. Differing Dialogues Vincent Giles 4:48
16. Winter Sarabande David Loeb 3:36
Two Sonnets Mike Mower
17. 4:08
18. 5:11
19. Serenade Houston Dunleavy 5:15
20. Groaning Oceans Peter Sheridan Dominy Clements 6:21
21. Quasi Latino Michal Rosiak 3:40


About the review author:

Shaun Barlow is a professional flute player based between Sydney and New York. He specialises in contemporary music, flute beatboxing, collaborating with composers and exploring the endless multitude of sounds available from the flute. Shaun has performed with the Sydney Conservatorium Modern Music Ensemble and Symphony Orchestra, the Kammerklang Orchestra and the Sydney University Opera Company. http://www.shaunbarlow.com/



All articles and reviews published on this website are representative of the opinions of the author/s alone and do not reflect the opinions of FTA or it’s affiliates
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