Light, effervescent music, played with tremendous
flair and vitality. I’d just been working my way through some
discs of modern choral music – wonderful, but fairly heavy going
– and this disc made the perfect foil. I assume that the two main
protagonists here, the flautist Joanna Cowan White and clarinettist
Kennen White, are husband and wife – sincere apologies if I’ve
got it wrong!. Whatever it is, they play together quite superbly,
and have sensibly invited other excellent wind players to join
them in order to expand the repertoire and sound-world of the
disc. However, of the nine works on the CD, six are for the flute/clarinet
combination (bass clarinet in one case), and the programme opens
with the most approachable of these. John Rutter’s Three American
Miniatures are typical of the composer – light, charming,
and beautifully written for the two instruments. The concluding
Rag is particularly delightful, and owes something in its
textures to the next composer, Sir Malcolm Arnold, for whose Divertimento
the Duo is supplemented by the oboe of Roger Rehm. This is a more
thoughtful piece than the Rutter, with a certain darkness creeping
in from time to time, notably in the Languido.
I very much enjoyed the Sonata for flute
and clarinet by the Austrian Thomas Christian David, a restlessly
busy piece, which uses the often overlapping registers of the
two instruments to create intricate, constantly changing textures
– satisfyingly resourceful stuff.
The rest of the music is all American (as opposed
to ‘All-American’ that is!). The best-known composer is Walter
Piston, represented by his rather fine early Three Pieces for
flute, clarinet and bassoon, this last instrument being played
by MaryBeth Minnis (what a profusion of excellent female bassoonists
there seems to be in the US at present). Piston’s concluding Allegro
is a rhythmically urgent moto perpetuo, to whose considerable
technical demands these performers are more than equal.
Perhaps the most interesting piece for me was
the one which gave the disc its title, Five Flights of Fancy
by Donald Sloan. This piece for the Duo is in five movements,
each prefaced by a short quotation from, in turn, Unamuno, Wordsworth,
Shakespeare, Carroll and Yeats. The most extended section follows
the Shakespeare quotation "…and sings a solitary song That
whistles in the wind". Here Sloan has employed some interesting
and often strikingly beautiful effects, for example asking the
flute player to breathe through her flute rather than play normally,
creating a haunting sound which comes close to the Japanese instrument
called the Shakuhachi.
The remaining pieces are all well worth hearing.
I especially enjoyed David R.Gillingham’s brilliant American
Counterpoint for flute, clarinet and alto saxophone. The stylish,
technically expert playing of all the musicians is captured perfectly
by the sound engineers. This is far too good a disc to be confined
to just a (relatively) few connoisseurs of wind chamber music.
Thanks and congratulations to all involved.