Below : Music for Low Flutes
Garry SCHOKER (b.1959)
A Small Sonata for a Large Flute [9:36]
Irish in the Lowlands [6:18] ¹
Winter Sun [1:08]
Jules DEMERSSEMANN (1833-1866)
Allegro Vivace Op.4 No.18 [0:53]
Ernesto KOHLER (1849-1907)
Allegretto Vivo Op.33 No.8 [2:01]
Philippe GAUBERT (1879-1941)
City Vignettes (2008) [14:44] ³
Adventures Under a Leaf (2007) º [8:07]
Viny GOLIA (b.1946)
There is a Difference Between Apples and Men* [7:52]
And the Giant began to Dance [3:26]
Alex SHAPIRO (b.1962)
Below (2008) [10:21]
Peter Sheridan (flutes)
Sheridan Stokes (flutes¹)
Lisa-Maree Amos (fluteº)
Peter Neville (vibraphone*)
Heather Price (double bass³)
Claire Cooper (piano)
John Sawoski (piano²)
rec. Move Records studio, Melbourne Australia, 2008-2009; Music Forever Studios, Encino, California USA. 2007-08
MOVE RECORDS MD 3330 [73:00]
It’s a well known fact of life that if you take up playing one or other weird and wonderful musical instrument, sooner or later you will encounter other people who play the same or similar weird and wonderful instruments. I’ve been performing on sub-contrabass flute #8 built by Dutch flute maker Jelle Hogenhuis since 2001, and Peter Sheridan’s later model of the same instrument is illustrated on the cover of this CD, which is dedicated to ‘low flutes’ in all their manifestations, including contrabass, bass, and alto flutes. I had the good fortune to meet New York City native and current Australian resident Peter Sheridan and had the privilege of performing a spontaneous sub-contrabass duet with him in a concert at the Badhuis in Amsterdam organised by another low flute specialist Ned McGowan. Don’t be told that the sub-contrabass flute is the biggest in the world however. The aforementioned concert event occurred when Peter came over from Australia to take delivery of an improbably large hyperbass flute also made by Jelle Hogenhuis, which from what I’ve seen looks to be the equivalent of playing a large chunk of the Pompidou Centre.
The title of this disc could have been ‘Bellows’, such is the volume of air required to play the largest of flutes. Whenever I do that health check thing to test lung capacity through exhalation the nurse or doctor always give me a raised eyebrow look over their spectacles, and probably make a note; ‘tuba player’ or ‘Wagnerian vocalist’. To get an idea of the scale of these instruments, the contrabass flute has the same range as a cello, the sub-contrabass flute is the equivalent of a 5-string double-bass; the kind which reach a bottom C, three octaves below middle C on a piano. Strictly speaking, the whole flute family needs re-naming to fit more accurately with the strings; the ‘normal’ bass flute being far more of a tenor instrument in comparison to the true basses. I doubt this will happen any time soon though. Weird and wonderful instruments do not necessarily have to lead to strange and difficult sounds, and all of the works on this recording show one or other expressive side to the flute. What is unusual is how many of the pieces here are written specially for the instruments on which they are performed. One of the disadvantages of playing an instrument which has only been around for a relatively few years is that most of what you end up playing is arrangements, though thanks to pioneers like Peter Sheridan this situation is gradually being remedied.
Gary Schocker is a renowned flautist as well as composer, and his piece A Small Sonata for a Large Flute shows how mellifluous and beautiful the bass flute can sound, presented in a melodic and rather romantic three movement setting. American composer and flautist Sheridon Stokes takes the sonorities of the bass and contrabass flutes, adding in an Irish flute-piccolo to enhance the folk-like nature of his piece Irish in the Lowlands which is like a set of variations on a simple, pastoral theme.
Arrangements and transcriptions do have their place on this programme, and Peter Sheridan shows the virtuoso side of the alto, bass and contrabass flutes in adapting a set of three etudes. His technical chops are pretty remarkable, and making an effective performance of these pieces, especially on the bass and contrabass flutes is no mean feat. I think all of us would be in agreement in drawing the line at attempting this kind of material on the sub-contrabass instrument - the notes are that less easy to define, and in my case at least the noise of the keys also counts against success. The contrabass flute does show its remarkable qualities in the study by Ernesto Kohler, and the quality of the tone easily outweighs any occasional mechanical noises. Another transcription is that of Philippe Gaubert’s Madrigal, which is likely to be the only piece known even to most flautists from this album. Here played on the wide-ranging alto flute, the piece gains a softer quality and a different kind of depth, but isn’t so very far from the original.
Patrick Neher is a music academic and double-bass player, and the logic of coupling the contrabass flute with the string bass is a clear one for his piece City Vignettes. This three movement work starts with a gently swinging jazz feel in a movement called Corner Encounter. Hard-boiled street gives way to slow lyricism in a movement called Lunacite, and the piece concludes with a fun blast called Block Party. This is a great work, partnering flute and bass both in complementary and contrasting ways with the piano adding a touch of subtle harmony and rhythmic colour.
Gary Schocker’s Adventures Under a Leaf is a set of five duets played on the normal C flute by Lisa-Maree Amos, and Peter Sheridan’s bass flute. These are finely crafted pieces with a good deal of thematic logic to go along with the “wonderfully quirky, lyrical and exciting” nature of the music. Putting two flutes of different sizes together isn’t as common as you might imagine, and the difference in character between the instruments is expertly demonstrated in a set of pieces which have plenty of technical content and musical substance.
Australian composer Bruce Lawrence’s Elegy sets the contrabass flute against a gentle piano accompaniment in a moving piece which was originally written for cello and piano.
One of the only really ‘modern’ pieces on this disc, There is a Difference Between Apples and Men is a movement taken from a bigger work for contrabass and percussion. Sonority and improvisatory exploration of both instruments results in a piece with a good deal of mystery and atmosphere in a context of ambiguous tonality. Peter Sheridan’s own piece for subcontrabass flute, And the Giant began to Dance, is described as a “spontaneous composition inspired by the dancing pulsations of air emerging from the elephant-like pipe.” The low resonances are well recorded, and give a good impression of the sheer physical nature of playing and hearing this kind of instrument in a piece which demonstrates some of the rhythmic effects which come naturally when exploring its qualities.
Below by American composer Alex Shapiro is a stunning electronic soundtrack based on undersea noises, including the song of the Pacific humpback whale. This acts as a partner to the contrabass flute, whose deep tones blend superbly with the vastness of the sounds and effects. There is rhythm and energy in this piece as well as a welcoming bath of resonant electronic soundscapes, and the results are an appealing blend of sonic anthropomorphism and attractive melodic contours.
This CD is a highly professional production, with fine recordings and a marvelous set of performances by all concerned. The booklet is nicely documented and illustrated if a little short on dates. There is pretty much something for everyone here, and I can imagine most people being pleasantly surprised by the variety of timbre and breadth of expressive qualities which can be obtained by blowing across a bit of old tube. You can find out more about bits of this kind of tube on Peter Sheridan’s excellent website. Sheridan’s crusade for his impressive collection of huge flutes continues apace, and we can expect more in the near future.
Amazing what you can do with a bit of old tube.