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Hidden Tango
Stephen GOSS (b.1964)
From Honey to Ashes (2007) [15:26]
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
Histoire du Tango (1986) [18:08]
Jerry OWEN (b.1944)
Hidden Tango (1999) [4:06]
Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
Aria from Bachianas Brasileiras No.5 (1938) [4:37]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1916)
Syrinx (1913) [2:59]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Morceau de Concours (1898) [3:09]
Erik SATIE (1866-1925)
Trois Gnosiennes (c.1890) [8:16]
Trois Gymnopédies (1888) [7:21]
Jennifer Stinton (flute)
Richard Hand (guitar)
rec. 4, 17 July 2007, Holy Trinity Church, Weston, Hertfordshire
CADENZA CACD0907 [64:05] 
 

 


Jennifer Stinton was the top flute student when I was at the Royal Academy of Music, and I remember being delighted to have the chance to deputise in the big Academy orchestras when she was so advanced as to have become almost invisible – constantly away gigging in the big professional orchestras in London or other such major league employment. I was only entrusted with such work after giving everyone a fright by nearly winning the York Bowen prize – adjudicated by the late lamented and greatly missed Sebastian Bell. I was always going to come second to Jenny however, and of course she went on to record numerous excellent CDs for Collins Classics, now re-issued on the Regis label. 

Hidden Tango is full of light and attractive pieces, with the accurate and articulate flute of Jennifer Stinton accompanied by the colourful and many-sided guitar playing of Richard Hand. The title may deceive a few seekers of dance tangos, for there are plenty of works here which have nothing whatever to do with that particular musical genre. Debussy’s Syrinx for instance is a typical flautist’s standby filler, and I suspect that is why it is included here. Nicely turned as the performance is here, I would have preferred a little more red-blooded passion in Pan’s cry of anguish towards the end. Gareth Morris used to paint more of a dreamily nostalgic picture of that moment for us in his lessons, but times have changed, and I look for grim emotional terrors at that point these days. 

I am however getting ahead of myself. Stephen Goss’s suite of short pieces From Honey to Ashes, is full of gems – jazzy and poetic. There are plenty of opportunities for the guitarist to display a variety of effects, from percussive slaps and damped strings, to the more conventional gestures one might normally expect. Even the simpler movements, such as Flutes and Fiddles have interesting rhythmic wrinkles, and this is a piece all such duos should make an effort to discover. 

Astor Piazzolla’s Histoire du Tango is a famous work for this combination, and the Hand/Stinton duo makes an excellent job of it. The piece presents ‘the tango’ in four different settings, from Bordel 1900 to Concert d’aujourd’hui. Again, I particularly enjoy Hand’s variety of colour, and his skilful vibrato in the solo towards the beginning of Café 1930.  The tango theme is continued in Jerry Owen’s Hidden Tango, which the composer describes as ‘not a picture of the dance itself, but an abstract of the energy and sentiment of the dance of love.’ There are whiffs and elements of this Argentinian sensibility, and the piece has a nice feel of narrative, moving from the gently pastoral to the folksy via a more sensual central section – not earth shattering, but highly attractive nonetheless. 

The famous Aria from the Bachianas Brasileiras No.5 by Villa-Lobos arranged for flute and guitar works well enough to start with: the plucked strings imitating the cellos in the opening. The more passionate second section has however, alas, all the impact of a banana skin on a bass drum, and I wonder at the wisdom of not playing that highly charged melody an octave higher in the flute. A question of balance perhaps, but the result is rather beige I’m sorry to say, and contributes little to the programme as a whole. 

Fauré’s Morceau de Concours is rather unusual as a test piece for the Paris Conservatoire, where displays of sheer virtuosity were more often the order of the day. This work is intended to provide an example of musicianship and lyrical abilities, and Stinton traverses some long melodic lines with easy grace. Lyrical melody is also the principal characteristic of Erik Satie’s Gnosiennes and Gymnopédies, and for these works an arrangement for flute and guitar is a logical one. I don’t prefer these to the piano originals, where the sustaining qualities of the melodic line are an artifice and illusion created by an unspoken complicity between the skill of the pianist and the suggestibility of the listener. The function of the guitar as left-hand also means an eternally unequal partnership in these pieces, and I’ve stopped playing them myself with piano accompaniment partly for the reason that I sense my pianist losing the will to live after about 5 minutes – but then, my pianist is only really happy when he’s playing Scriabin. The performances on this disc are of course very musical, and one or other of the two sets would probably have been fine. To have both, one after the other, makes for a somewhat somnolent conclusion.

To sum up, this is a bit of a mixed bag – one half really interesting material, the other being famous pieces either feeling a little stranded, or having the character of the kind of nice background music organised for quasi-chic dinners on a daily basis. Either way the playing is as good as I expected it to be, so if the pieces and the combination interest I am sure you will not be disappointed.

Dominy Clements

 

 


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