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Fanfare Magazine

Fanfare Magazine Nov/Dec 2015

Dancing Shadows

Audio CD | Cala Records

Not infrequently, a CD shows up fromFanfare Central that turns out to be a delight from beginning to end, and the present disc is just one such. From the opening notes of this CD, the listener will be awash in the luxuriant sounds that emerge from his stereo system. For instance, the opening work, Dancing Shadows, combines gently flowing lines in the flute with nuanced accompaniment lines in the piano, a generally very upbeat work that is gently tinged with nostalgia.

“So who is Miriam Hyde?” you ask. An Australian, she lived between 1913 and 2005, and achieved renown in her native land as a composer, pianist, teacher, and writer on music. She undertook studies in the UK with such notables as Gordon Jacob and Arthur Benjamin (himself an Aussie who spent a good portion of his career teaching in England) before returning to Australia in 1936. As a pianist, she appeared in a solo capacity in collaboration with conductors such as Malcolm Sargent, Constant Lambert, Georg Schnéevoigt, Geoffrey Simon, and Edgar Bainton. The last named was also a fine English composer who emigrated to Australia. Hyde’s piano career lasted at least until the age of 89, at which time she performed her Second Piano Concerto.

Her music encompasses a wide variety of genres, ranging from small piano works to substantial concertos (both of her piano concertos have been recorded by her), but on the basis of this CD, miniatures seem to have been her forte. Her music is skillfully written, containing clever use of counterpoint (“Beside the Stream”), Impressionism (“Wedding Morn”), and a spirit of joie de vivre (evidenced in several of the present works including “The Little Juggler,” these three cited works all movements of Five Solos for Flute and Piano). Her music has a rich harmonic vocabulary, with splendid crafting of the musical ideas it contains. Stylistically, there may not be much originality heard here—these works bear resemblances in various places to the music of Jacques Ibert, Ethyl Smyth, Arnold Bax, Charles Wakefield Cadman, and others—but with the skill and beauty it evinces, who cares?

The present recital encompasses Hyde’s complete output for flute and piano. Its 13 works range from the brief vignette On the Hillside, clocking in at exactly one minute, to the disc’s most substantial work, the Flute Sonata in G Minor, which is more than 12 minutes in length. The latter work is particularly impressive in its interplay between the instruments, the skill it evidences in its flute writing, and the enduring quality of its melodies. Flutists certainly must know of this substantial and rewarding work, but it should be widely known among music lovers in general. Having heard little of Hyde’s music before encountering the present CD, you may be sure that I shall be on the lookout for more of it.

The performances of this music by flutist Bridget Bolliger and pianist Andrew West are simply not to be bettered. The crystalline clarity of Bolliger’s tonal production is the very essence of what flute sound should be, and her expressiveness and turns of phrase are most conducive to presenting this music in a way in which its composer surely would have exulted. For his part, West is a most sensitive collaborator (the word accompanist simply would not do him justice, as these pieces are duos in every sense of that term), varying his touch according to the dictates of the phrase at hand, and playing with a security of technique and musicianship that captivates. In short, I stand in awe at the superb music-making of this duo. Cala’s splendid sonics likewise add to the stellar musical experience that this disc affords the listener.

The CD closes with an unusual addendum highlighting another facet of Hyde’s talents, presenting as it does 10 of her poems. These are all brief, ranging in length from less than a minute to two minutes. I have no delusions about being an expert in poetry, but her poems fall graciously on the ear, even if to my musically trained and tuned mind they seem anticlimactic to the wonderful music that preceded them. Reader Gerard Maguire nevertheless presents them compellingly, and even if you’re not into poetry, the music makes up the majority of the running time of this CD in a ratio of approximately five to one. Very highly recommended to chamber music aficionados and music lovers in general.

David DeBoor Canfield

Fanfare Magazine

Fanfare Magazine Mar/Apr 2014

QUINTOPIA | New Sydney Wind Quintet

Privately issued CD (timing)
Available at the artists’ website, www.nswq.com.au / ‘Quintopia’

RAVEL Ma mere l’oye Suite (arr. Linckelmann).
GRAINGER Irish Tune from County Derry. Lisbon. Walking Tune.
CHAN Passage (untitled). Calcium Night Light.
NIELSEN Wind Quintet.

It’s always a pleasant as well as a wonderful surprise to hear a young chamber group nowadays that doesn’t seem to trade on virtuosity for its own sake, a group that takes immense care of the details of their performances so that the sum total makes a good impression, and—yes—one that does NOT tout themselves as “one of the most exciting chamber groups of their generation.” In short, the New Sydney Wind Quintet, celebrating its 10th anniversary as a unit in 2014, can take immense pride from the fact that they are really good, and thus don’t need gimmicks.

So much is evident from the first notes of the quintet arrangement of Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite. I’ve never really been much of a fan of this piece in its orchestral score—I always found it a bit too Romantic, too heavy, and too precious to fit its designated genre—but the way it is played here, the music has both delicacy (which you’d expect from a quintet arrangement) and charm. And charm is one quality you can’t buy. You either have it or you don’t, and this quintet has it. In fact, the longer I listened to them the less I thought of them as a wind quintet, if you know what I mean. Not one of the five musicians makes the least effort to stand out, even when they are the only instrument playing. They approach their music as a unit, like an orchestra.
In consequence, what you take from the listening experience is the music. The mechanism of the instruments almost seems like a conduit to the mind of Ravel, or Percy Grainger, or Carl Nielsen. It’s just you and the score, coming at you with unparalleled sensitivity and the kind of technical perfection that does not draw attention to itself. Small wonder that Vladimir Ashkenazy said of them, “Superb playing…I cannot imagine these pieces played better.” Listen, for instance, to the way they play Grainger’s arrangement of the Irish Tune, which turns out to be “Danny Boy.” When was the last time you really heard this song played (or sung, for that matter) with real feeling? It is played so here, and that in itself makes it a remarkable performance.

The two pieces by Australian composer Lyle Chan are, it turns out, from his Harp and Wind Quintet. The music is light but utterly delightful, seeming to float through one’s consciousness as if in a dream.

The CD ends with a fine performance of one of the recognized 20th-century masterpieces for this combination, the Nielsen Wind Quintet, and once again the Sydney group places the emphasis on the music, not on their own virtuosity. One hears any number of small details in the score, then, that sometimes pass unnoticed in others’ readings, particularly the way in which
Nielsen combines the oboe, French horn and bassoon as a small ensemble from time to time. My only small complaint of this disc is that the pastoral quality of all this music makes it tend a bit towards sameness of expression. A few outbursts would have been welcome. Otherwise, a splendid disc and a fine introduction to this talented Australian quintet.

Lynn René Bayley