Katherine Bicknell – flute
Andrew Zolinsky – piano
Peter Graham – violin
Timothy Murray - harpsichord
A flute recital with half the programme dedicated to modern composers
was never going to be a sell out but for those of us there this was
an absorbing concert.
The first piece in this concert was Bach’s ‘Trio Sonata
from "Musical Offering"’. It was not an authentic performance
in terms of style or instrumentation and – although I am not a strong
advocate of period performances – it suffered for this. Although harpsichord
made up a part of the continuo, this was matched by modern instruments
on the violin, ‘cello and flute and perhaps too little attention was
paid to the effects of this. Consequently, in the allegros of the second
and fourth movements, the clarity of the semi-quavers was lost and the
balance was often texturally heavy, sometimes losing the harpsichord
altogether and not allowing the flute and violin counterpoints to speak
clearly enough. This was indeed a shame as the slow movements were beautifully
The concert finished with the ‘Grande Polonaise’ by
Boehm, the man responsible for the development of the modern flute.
Whilst experimenting with new key systems he composed several virtuosic
pieces, of which this is one, to test the systems out. These were more
technically difficult than the works preceding it, although musically
insubstantial, and Bicknell delivered the piece with as much virtuoso
display and tongue-in-cheek characterisation as the piece deserved.
She handled technically difficult passages with ease and my only problem
with the performance was the occasionally insensitive accompaniment
by Andrew Zolinsky which I felt was lazy given the ease of his part.
It was occasional though, and on the whole he complimented her well
in a good finale to the concert.
However, whilst these first and last pieces were essentially
standard fare, it was in the middle two that Bicknell really relaxed
and came into her own. The Lowell Liebermann ‘Solilioquy’, commissioned
in 1993 by Katherine Kemler, is an unaccompanied fantasy written without
bar lines, allowing the musician real freedom in interpretation. Bicknell
took every advantage of this and successfully too; despite the lack
of bar lines, there was a strong sense of rhythm, or, more particularly,
of timing – achieved without sacrificing the fantastical element. It
is a highly repetitive piece - built from the first few notes - but
an unpretentious approach and imaginative phrasing made interesting
a potentially tedious piece, whilst her range of dynamics served to
add a new dimension.
Of course, the usual quibble with unaccompanied wind
solos is the problem of breathing. Composers (and Liebermann is no exception)
happily ignore this problem leaving it in the court of the musician
to try and breathe without interrupting phrases with audible gasps or
leaving large, gaping holes in the music. Bicknell, rather than shying
away, tackled this head-on. The feeling of space she managed to create
in the piece helped this problem but it was more her incorporation of
breathing actually into the music that was impressive. Breaths, where
taken, were music, not gaps, not embarrassing silences.
Anne Boyd’s ‘Red Sun, Chill Wind’, based on a poem
of the same name by the Japanese poet Basho is a very atmospheric piece,
but is little more than that. Its main claim to being standard repertoire
is its clever use of modern techniques in aiding the atmosphere, but
these techniques were used very repetitively and again the success of
the performance was down to the strength of Bicknell’s musical interpretation:
as with the Liebermann (and dare I add the Bach?) it would have been
dull in less capable hands.
The programme left Bicknell with no hiding place; there
was no piece that ‘played itself’, instead needing 100% from her at
all times. This she gave and the result was a striking display of musical