Following On - Music for flute, oboe and piano
Francis POULENC (1899-1963) Sonata for Oboe and Piano (1963) [14:23]; Tim EWERS (b.1958) Flautando (2004) [7:32]; Francis POULENC Mélancolie (1940) [6:47]; Tim EWERS Chimborazo (2009) [4:23], Kite (1980) [4:60]; Francis POULENC Sonata for Flute and Piano (1957) [12:54]; Tim EWERS Rainy Days and Holidays (1999) [6:04], Solitaire (2000) [4:55], Following On [11:30]
The Fibonnacci Sequence; Ileana Ruhemann (flute), Christopher O’Neal (oboe), Kathron Sturrock (piano)
rec. 14-16 September 2009, Coombehurst Studio, Kingston University, UK. DDD
GUILD GMCD7344 [73:27]

This disc of music for flute, oboe and piano includes works by Poulenc and Tim Ewers. Ewers is a British composer, who studied at Surrey University and Goldsmiths’ College, University of London, and is currently a Senior Lecturer in music at Kingston University. His music on this disc takes the first four note fragment of Poulenc’s Oboe Sonata as a starting point, and develops in his own direction.

The disc begins with the aforementioned Poulenc Oboe Sonata, which is expressively and dramatically played by Christopher O’Neal and Kathron Sturrock. This is undoubtedly one of the best known works of the twentieth century oboe repertoire. Each movement has a distinctive character, from the lyrical opening to the rhythmically energetic toccata-like Scherzo and mournful Déploration. This is an engaging performance which has much to offer.

Flautando, the first of Tim Ewers’ pieces, is an atmospheric work for flute and piano, composed in 2004. The influence of the Chinese flute can be strongly felt, both in the use of particular idiosyncratic playing techniques, such as air sounds, microtones and the dramatic opening gesture, and in the melodic shaping of the music.

Richly romantic in style, Poulenc’s Melancolie for solo piano features fluid lines and sonorous melodies. The piano is much closer in this recording than the duo in the previous piece, and the contrast in volume is marked. I very much enjoyed Sturrock’s playing here, which displayed sensitivity and passion in equal measure, but I couldn’t help questioning the tuning of the piano, which seemed a little suspect.

Chimborazo is a short trio, written by Ewers in 2009. The dissonant opening is sparsely populated, with short motivic ideas repeated and gradually allowed to develop, including some Stravinskian parallel harmony moments between the flute and oboe, and some beautifully microtonal slow timbral changes in the oboe. Based on an Andean landscape, the piece has a sense of grandeur and Ewers creates space within the texture. Kite is the earliest of the Ewers pieces, composed in 1980. The oboe writing is confident and has an impressive natural flow which betrays Ewers’ background as an oboe player. O’Neal gives a well communicated rendition, with excellent technical control and some impressive high register playing. The slow section is beautifully expressive, bringing the piece to a mesmerizing end.

Poulenc’s Flute Sonata is another well known addition to the repertoire, and has been recorded many times. Ileana Ruhemann plays with charm and character here. There are some lovely changes of tone colour and she brings out the contrast between the phrases in the first movement. The second movement is gentle at the opening, and gradually builds in passion towards the turbulent centre of the movement. The final movement is generally well controlled and played with a good sense of energy. In terms of recording quality, the flute sound is quite distant and sometimes overpowered by the piano in the balance. Generally, the sound is bass heavy, and I would have liked a little more brightness in the mix.

Three more Ewers pieces complete the disc. Rainy Days and Holidays for solo piano was composed for Kathron Sturrock and has contrasting musical material which gives variety of mood and pace. Solitaire for solo flute uses contemporary techniques, such as singing and playing, for changes of timbre. This is enjoyable, although I did not find it to be particularly memorable. The playing is convincing and the contemporary techniques are put to good effect. Following On is an extended work for oboe and piano, which ‘follows on’ from Poulenc’s oboe sonata. There are some obvious melodic links with Poulenc’s work, and the balance between the parts is well judged. The chordal piano writing particularly reminds me of Poulenc, with some magical and spacious harmonies heard against the lyrical oboe line.

Carla Rees

Magical and spacious harmonies.