In a Winter Landscape (2009) [5:27]
Ross EDWARDS (b.1943)
Adrienne ALBERT (b.1941)
Three for Two
Garry SCHOKER (b.1959)
Dark Star (2007)* [3:35]
Noisy Oyster [1:59]
Autumn Leaves [1:42]
Vaughan McALLEY (b.1970)
Serenade and Burlesque (2007) [4:49]
Stanley M. HOFFMAN (b.1959)
Meditations and Melodies [3:53]
Differing Dialogues [4:48]
David LOEB (b.1939)
Winter Sarabande [3:36]
Mike MOWER (b.1958)
Two Sonnets* [9:19]
Houston DUNLEAVY (b.1962)
Serenade (2010) [5:15]
Peter SHERIDAN/Dominy CLEMENTS (b.1964)
Groaning Oceans (2009) [6:21]
Quasi Latino (2009) [3:40]
Following on from Peter Sheridan’s CD Below (see review), this remarkable flautist continues his exploration of the low flute family in this well filled and widely varying programme of mostly brand new music for at least a few almost brand new instruments. ‘The lower flutes’ are usually considered to start with the alto flute and downwards. Bass and contrabass flutes are no longer quite the rarities they once were, and now the subcontrabass flute is gaining an ever firmer foothold. This is mostly as a consort instrument in flute ensembles of one kind or another, but as Peter Sheridan has proved, also has considerable potential as a solo instrument. With this release I can now promise something even lower – the hyperbass flute, whose range goes so low it is pretty much beyond human hearing. This is such a massive machine that some of the keys are operated with connections which use bicycle brake cables. Peter Sheridan mentions in the booklet that this is the only chromatic model in existence so far, and is not the same as the one made by Francesco Romei for flautist Roberto Fabbriciani. Research goes on into this kind of extreme flute, but this CD provides a fascinating taster of their possibilities.
Extreme flutes or not, this is a highly attractive programme and stands up well as listening for non-specialist audiences, as well as those keen on auditioning big flutes, or testing the range of their hearing or their hifi. Madelyn Byrne’s In a Winter Landscape provides a full and atmospherically resonant opening, with a bass flute creating lyrical lines over some highly attractive electronic sounds which work in sympathy with the soloist, making it sound as if the performer is in a vast space, “an austere winter landscape after a powerful storm.” This is followed by a chirpy miniature by well known Australian composer Ross Edwards. Ulpirra is an Aboriginal word for pipe or flute, and this striking little piece is full of tricky mixed-metre rhythms.
US singer and composer Adrienne Albert’s Three for Two uses the contrabass flute as accompanist and foil for the bass and alto flutes. The lower instrument’s already harmonic-rich sound is further enhanced with the player occasionally singing and playing at the same time. Tightly composed, these pieces have a great deal of lyrical expressiveness and virtuosity from both parts, with the agility of the contrabass flute particularly in evidence in the last of the three movements, Sassy. Gary Schocker’s Dark Star is a very pleasant little piece for bass flute and piano which also explores the expressive upper range of the instrument, which Peter Sheridan plays with spot-on intonation. Under the umbrella title of Noisy Oyster, Hilary Taggart’s collection of five Concert Pieces for Low Flutes is more substantial than its name might imply. These are all very well written and highly approachable solos for alto, bass and contrabass flutes, but I particularly like the expressive lines of the central movement, Zephyr, which allows the voice of the contrabass flute to be heard in its various ranges.
Serenade and Burlesque by Australian composer Vaughan McAlley is an amiable two-movement work for flute quintet which is almost a pre-classical pastiche. This throws in some nice canon and other imitative techniques, and the second movement is a good humoured double-fugue which makes the various flute voices easily identifiable within the ensemble. Meditations and Memories is a small duet for alto flutes by American composer Stanley M. Hoffman. He mentions a number of associations with other composers, the main theme reminiscent of the bassoon opening to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. The two flutes weave in and out of each other in meditations on this material in an easily assimilated arch-like form which moves through a new ‘memory’ theme before returning to the material of the opening.
With Differing Dialogues Vincent Giles gives us the first chance to hear the hyperbass flute. The piece was the result of a low flutes composition workshop, and revolves around a solo from the bass flute. Dialogues begin to occur with and between the other instruments: there is a certain amount of egotistical jockeying, and the hyperbass flute “inspires awe as it bellows its way into the discussion.” As with the Groaning Oceans track later on, you have to convince yourself that this is a real instrument rather than a more conventional flute through a slowed down pre-recording, but the gruff beats and subterranean noises are real and remarkable indeed. This is followed by some lighter textured solos, with David Loeb’s expressive Winter Sarabande another useful addition to the repertoire for bass flute.
Mike Mower is a name familiar to most flautists, and his jazz background is audible in the very attractive Two Sonnets for alto flute and piano. The first is a ‘languid melody’ over descending harmonies from the piano with some transitional quasi film-music effects. The second Sonnet is more improvisatory in feel to start with, with rich cluster chords from the piano over which the flautist creates elegant gestures. This gives way to a ‘sensual mixed meter dance’, the whole thing being in an easy-going jazz idiom which provides a nice light intermezzo before Irish composer Houston Dunleavy’s Serenade. The composer sought to and succeeded in writing a work that is “lyrical and soulful”, based on a deceptively simple compositional technique over a limited number of intervals.
The following piece is a first-ever solo involving the vast hyperbass flute and one with which I am proud to be associated. I made a gloomily sub-marine electronic piece called ‘Full Fathom’ many years ago, and had never really found a use for the thing until Peter Sheridan discovered it for his Groaning Oceans. My soundtrack is one which includes underwater bells and the kinds of aural soundwash which one might associate with the deep sea, and Peter has used it as a backing over, and under which the hyperbass flute moves like a huge, unidentifiable aquatic monster. Don’t turn up the volume too high to start with – your woofers will need to get used to the subterranean frequencies you will experience in the first minute or so. You will also hear some key noises from time to time as well, employed as an integral and chunkily percussive part of the work.
The programme ends with a low flutes quartet, written for Peter Sheridan by Polish composer Michal Rosiak. As its title suggests, Quasi Latino has some nice Latin-American rhythms and witty touches which “give the work a delicious teasing and seductive tension.” As with all of the flute ensemble works on this disc, the multiple parts are almost all over-dubs of Peter Sheridan on his vast arsenal of instruments, but the recording and production quality is very good throughout, and the ensembles always sound entirely natural and not ‘click-track stiff’ as can sometimes occur with this kind of recording.
As I mentioned at the start of this review, this is a programme which has wide appeal and a high entertainment factor, and should by no means be considered as only of interest to flute players, mad or otherwise. With typical dryness, Houston Dunleavy describes Peter Sheridan as “a cyclone disguised as a flute player”, and this release stands witness to the breadth of Peter’s achievement as a performer and stimulator of new work for low flutes.