Review by Judith Caldwell
The first concert in the 8th season of 5 @ the First series was “The Voice of the Flute” featuring HPO principal flautist Leslie Newman, accompanied by Roman Borys, cello and pianist Jeanie Chung. The afternoon opened with a student of Newman’s – Lisa Han playing Astor Piazzolla’s Tango-Etude #3 for solo flute. This difficult and interesting piece was very well played by Han, but the flute was a slim sounding instrument to convey the passion of tango, although it did marvellously well in the haunting, longing passages. Han is only in Grade 12 and is obviously a musician to watch.
A couple of duets for flute and piano followed, first a Vocalise-Etude by Francis Poulenc written for voice in the 1920’s when he was quite young and optimistic, but it worked really well for flute. It was dark and rich and stately and really quite lovely. This was followed by a recent Joseph Schwantner composition ‘Black Anemones’, a dreamy tone poem that was dark and yet wide ranging and showed the talents and teamwork of Newman and Chung. Five @ the First promise five Canadian works this season and Harry Somers’ “Etching: The Vollard Suite” was this afternoons offering. It is a solo for flute which was originally written as background music for a documentary on Picasso. In her introduction Newman marvelled at how one form of art could so well mirror another. The music had a sense of exploration and innovation and yet it knew where it needed to go for a satisfying sense of ‘mission accomplished’.
The first half wrapped up with another duet, Sergei Prokofiev Sonata in D major, op 94. This was written in 1943 at a time when Stalin was occupied with more than cultural control and when Prokofiev was in the relative safety of Kazakhstan. It is a work in 4 movements which so impressed David Oistakh, in the audience at the debut that he begged for a violin version. It is lovely music and unmistakably Prokofiev with hints of his other compositions here and there. The moderato is long and beautiful; the allegretto scherzando is very busy, fast and races to an end; the andante has very controlled long lines and the allegro con brio is loud, lively and definitely, satisfyingly Prokofiev. After intermission a different duo emerged, this time flute and cello, to play Heitor Villa Lobos Assobio a Jato – loosely translated as jet whistle. This was a lyrical, evocative piece typical of Villa Lobos’ free ranging use of folk material mixed with his own style and eclectic influences, hence a flute as a jet engine, which must have been fiendishly difficult to play.
The final piece of the afternoon was Carl Maria Von Weber’s Trio in G-minor, op. 63 a work in four movements. Von Weber is called the first of the Romantic composers and he certainly seems to have influenced his contemporary Beethoven. The first movement of the Trio is both lyrical and dramatic with long melodic lines, the second movement is heroic and heavily Beethovenesque. The third movement is a setting of Goethe’s poem ‘The Shepherd’s Lament’, a frequent Germanic musical muse, featuring the piano, and the final allegro starts slowly and joyfully ramps up to a playful ending clearly enjoyed by the musicians. Newman is an outstanding flautist and Chang and Borys are superb musicians who supported and accompanied her. The smaller than usual audience (Thanksgiving weekend?) gave them all a well-deserved standing ovation. The next concert is Jan. 13th