Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A "Tasty" Flute Recital by Luisa Sello

The contemporary music gurus Larry and Arlene Dunn saw the program for this concert and declared it "tasty". Indeed the April 28th concert, part of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory Performance Series was quite a full meal. Italian flutist Luisa Sello's guest artist recital included four US premieres of compositions written for her, two charming turn of the twentieth century works by Casella and Chaminade and sonatas for flute and keyboard by J.S. Bach.

Sello opened the program with a fluid and elegant performance of Bach's "Sonata for Flute and Obbligato Keyboard" BWV 1030 with Karen Kushner on the piano. Purists would cringe at the modern flute and piano, but this was a crisp, clear and light performance devoid of any romantic mannerisms, yet never starkly dry either. Sello, in her remarks, compared the sonata to the languages Bach would hear in his contacts with other musicians.  The opening Andante was formal, economical German, the following Andante, Sello noted, was infused with the melodic sensuality of Spain. In the concluding Presto, Sello heard and vividly communicated the hard, chewy consonants of English invoking the rhythm of a gigue.

The Bach was a fitting opener since the next piece, Kansas City based composer Mara Gibson's "Flone", is based on Bach, specifically the "Partita for Flute" BWV 1013. Atavistic fluttering and the pizzicato of tapped keys evoke earth sounds as the theme from the Allemande of the Partita emerges and takes flight. The theme is embellished by a myriad of effects and vocalizations from Sello until it climaxes and deconstructs into fragments, returning to the earth music of the opening. A most compelling and fascinating work, with undoubtedly the best and most clever title for a piece in my memory.

Like "Flone", "Erbarme dich"  (2005) by German composer Rainer Bischof is also based on Bach;  the work's subtitle is Sicilliano on Bach's Matthaus-Passion. In this case, Bischof deconstructs the Bach fragment from its whole, returning it to nature sounds and elements of dance whereas Gibson's "Flone" has Bach emerge from the elements. "Flone" works best in this case, the Bichoff, no doubt definitively performed, sounding as if the flute is just superimposing sound effects over the Bach tune.

The charming "Barcarolla e Scherzo" for flute and piano (1903) was a revelation. Alfredo Casella (1883-1947) was a contemporary of Respighi and once as highly regarded. He was conductor of the Boston Pops for a period in the late 1920's and was instrumental in re-introducing Vivaldi to audiences. His Third Symphony (1939) was written for the Chicago Symphony and well received. But Casella thereafter returned enthusiastically to Fascist Italy and soon his reputation all but vanished. Sello's performance of this seldom heard impressionistic fantasy was liquid and flowing, the flute and piano in perfect communication. C├ęcile Chaminade's  Concertino, op 107 was heard in its arrangement for flute and piano. A lovely, romantic work, exquisitely performed but paling in comparison to the more adventurous and sensuous Casella.

If the Casella was a musical rocking of a little barque, Narong Prangcharoen's 2014 compostion "Lom" (Thai for "wind") provided the wind and the waves. The breathy flute evoked bamboo flutes, storms, breezes and the atmospheric sounds of nature in the work's short span. Provocative and elementally melodic, as is all the music I have heard from this fine composer who is also on the UMKC faculty.

One can always count on the prolific James Mobberly to provide a challenging and frequently humorous work for a contemporary music recital. "Respiri", (2014) also making its US premiere, was a barnstorming tour-de-force, chock full of his trademark bursts of energy, startling contrasts of tempo and volume and every musical trick in the book. Sello was inspired to doff her heels in preparation for the action. Breathing and vocalizations from the flutist plus rock-inspired key tapping take primacy over traditional melody or pitches. Sello was in total command of the flute, even ending the exhilarating piece with a little dance. One has to hand it to Mobberly, his works leave you with a satisfied smile all while challenging the ear and mind.

Karen Kushner returned to accompany Sello in the closing bookend; a charming and graceful performance of the Andante from the Bach "Sonata for Flute and Continuo" BWV 1034.

A star-studded evening for contemporary music with Gibson, Prangcharoen and Mobberly in attendance along with renowned composers Chen Yi and Zhou Long listening along in the White Recital Hall at the James C. Olsen Performing Arts Center on the UMKC campus.

No comments: