Flute Vox. Works by Takemitsu, Yu, Varèse, Smetanin, Tiutiunnik, Zadro, Vali, B. Dean, Cowie, Page, Kats-Chernin and Glynn

Laura Chislett, Flute; Stephanie McCallum, piano; Thomas Jones, violin
Classical, New Music
Independent release. Double CD (available through Australian Music Centre and Amazon UK)
Reviewed by , March 3rd, 2016

Flute Vox, an outstanding double CD release by flautist Laura Chislett, celebrates a longstanding collaboration with pianist Stephanie McCallum in the interpretation of new Australian flute repertoire.

Most of the titles are by Australian composers writing in the 21st century, several of whom have composed for the duo previously. There are a few 20th century pieces including the landmark Density 21.5 for solo flute by Edgard Varèse (1936/revised 1946) and Takemitsu’s Voice for solo flutist (1971). The title of the CD relates to this piece and to Mark Zadro’s Vox Box for solo amplified bass flute and vocalisations (2001). Both these works explore the extended flute technique of speaking and intoning words or vocal sounds though the instrument.

Flautist Laura Chislett Jones

Flautist Laura Chislett Jones

Whereas Takemitsu creates a balance between flute vocalisations and pure flute sounds, albeit heavily influenced by traditional Japanese techniques of pitch and timbre manipulation, Zadro’s impressive work is almost entirely constructed from the fusion of voice and flute, including passages of multiphonic counterpoint and slap-tongue inflected percussive grooves.

Another solo flute contribution is Brett Dean’s Demons (2004) This work centres around an excited refrain consisting of a insistently repeated high D and rapid figurations falling from and rising to it. This recurring idea is interspersed with lyrical though quite angular ideas. Dean has since written two more works derived from this brilliant flute solo, The Siduri Dances for solo flute and string orchestra (2007) and The Siduri Dances for saxophone with full orchestra (2013).

Another solo work, Elena Kats-Chernin’s Blue Silence (short version) for solo flute (2006) could not be more contrasting, as it is heavily based on diatonic melodic ideas and triadic appeggios.

There are several works involving flute and prerecorded sounds. Michael Smetanin’s Backbone for solo flute and fixed media (2015) surprisingly seems to demonstrate an interactive interplay between the solo flute and the complex prerecorded flute textures. However on Rosalind Page’s Courb Dominante for solo flute, alto flute and saturnian sound spectra (2006), the saturnian sounds play only a minor role on what is essentially a long and elaborately structured solo work.

The four works for flute and piano demonstrate a variety of stylistic approaches.

Julian Yu’s Sonata for flute and piano (2004) is in two movements. The first has a post-impressionist quality featuring changing piano ostinati which accompany rhapsodic flights of flute fancy; whereas the second demonstrates more metrical drive, a single drone centre (F) and playful imitative interplay between the two instruments.

Katia Tiutiunnik’s The Quickening: a tribute to Jonathon Kramer for flute and piano (2005) has a brooding melodic quality within quite conventional diatonic/modal harmonic frameworks.

Persian Suite (2002), by Iranian composer Reza Vali is also conventional in musical language. The first two movements are modelled on French impressionism and the last is an ebullient exploration of the intervallic qualities of the octatonic scale.

By contrast Edward Cowie’s Finches for flute (alto flute, or piccolo) and piano (1993) generally takes a more modernist approach. Each of the seven movements is named for a different Australian finch but, although the flute lines often have birdsong-like qualities, there seems to be no attempt to imitate the calls of any of the selected birds. Even so the piece is an attractive sets of cameos evocative of the avian world.

Elena Kats-Chernin’s Wedding Suite for flute and violin (1996) is a set of six well-crafted miniatures with quirky titles such as “a moment of minor key silliness” and “a cheeky pizzicato sign-off”. The pick for me is movement III, “a wild and dizzying dance”.

The inclusion of a solo piano work as a “Bonus Track” is mysterious unless you know that Gerald Glynn was one of the composers on Chislett’s and McCallum’s first flute/piano release, The Flute in Orbit (1993). Glynn’s meditative Four Episodes for solo piano (2010) vacillates between tonal and atonal orientation. Each of the episodes demonstrates an inventive treatment of its opening ideas through motivic development and variational strategies.

Flute Vox has a variety of compositional approaches and demonstrates a great range of contemporary flute techniques. The performances by Chislett, McCallum and Thomas are uniformly excellent.

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