One, Two, Three. Works by Johnson, Kirsten, Dean, Rigler, Fonville and Cage

Tim Munro, voice and flute
Classical, New Music Listen online or purchase the cassette.
Reviewed by , July 1st, 2015

In a video introduction to his new album, Tim Munro takes an amusing pot shot at glamour-puss flautists, insisting that this is nothing like the glossily produced discs featuring Reicha and other bêtes-noires of the flute repertoire. Naturally, I can’t think whom he means. Munro, from Brisbane, but now resident in the US where is artistic co-director of the legendary Eighth Blackbird, then channels novelist Sam Lipsyte on the ideal of the story (or music album) shorn of extraneous stuff, leaving only the best – that is, the sexiest, funniest – material. Being of a certain age, my thoughts immediately ran to the late Liberace, who justified his ‘edits’ of Chopin and the like saying ‘I leave out the boring bits’. Fortunately, here there’s not a candelabrum or hair-line scar in sight.

Tim Munro

Tim Munro

Being of a certain age, I also note with amusement that the album, available on-line for streaming or download, is also being issued on cassette. For those under forty: the cassette is a tiny reel-to-reel magnetic tape that comes in its own handy plastic case that fits neatly into a cassette player (see also ghetto-blaster) with which one could record ambient sound, one’s own playing or stuff on the radio. Or fling from a fourth-storey window holding onto a section of tape. More retro than the Victorian beards that are a hazard to traffic in hip inner-city cafes, but, as Munro notes, this is, after all, a ‘mix tape’.

As Munro stresses in his introduction, this is an album of voice and flute music. It features four Counting Duets by now-senior minimalist Tom Johnson as partitions between the other opening works. The first Counting Duet is a marvel of virtuoso editing and fabulously effective on headphones with its rapid-fire enunciation of numbers. (Somewhat alarmingly, there is version in Dutch on YouTube.)

Amy Beth Kirsten’s Pirouette on a Moon Silver for vocalising flute, is the longest work on the album. Commissioned by Tim Munro and premiered in 2011, the piece is theatrical, ebullient and genuinely funny where required. Johnson’s second Counting Duet provides neat contrast in its whispered march rhythms.

Brett Dean’s Demons comes across at first as a manual of how to write for solo flute, building on the tradition of Debussy, Honegger, Ibert, Varèse. God knows, we’ve all done it (especially reformed flautists like me): the florid disjunct figures ending a long note that is then flutter-tongued, shakuhachied, bent or given a hard articulation. But the coda takes it to a whole different, and magical, place.

With its reliance on the numbers 1,2 and 3 the third of Johnson’s Counting Duets gives the album its title (not to be confused with the Jimmy Cagney movie of the same name). It stands as a kind of scherzo, and indeed the hemiolas in its triple metre give it a quasi-Brahmsian flavour.

Tim Munro 1

Jane Rigler, herself a flautist, offers Two Seaming, composed in 1998 for two flutes (or one plus playback), which creates hypnotically resonant, multilayered chorale effects.

Counting Duet No.4 hits the teens and twenties with increasingly complex and rapid syllabification, clapping and shouting. It’s very funny, and one hears the humour in Munro’s voice. Being of a certain age, I found his appealing Strine accent makes it sound a bit like an Aunty Jack sketch (and I say that in a good way).

Another flautist/composer, John Fonville, is represented by four movements from his Music for Sarah suite of 1981. The first evokes something like the effects of Tibetan-Buddhist chant in its use of the overtone series. In the second, a minimalist motif is interrupted by vocal ejaculations, with lovely, light-fingered modulations of metres. In the third, slewing glissandos, natural harmonics and spooky noises create a long, arching and moving melody, where in the fourth, rapid tremolos depict a shimmering dream-world of harmonic movement that ends all too abruptly.

Finally Munro and his associates have far too much fun with John Cage’s Aria, creating a collage of often hilarious juxtapositions, punctuated by the tell-tale sound of the cassette ‘record’ button and the occasional scratch of a stylus on vinyl. Being of a certain age, I remember Cathy Berberian (who premiered Aria and is its dedicatee). She’d have adored the whole thing.

Copyright The Music Trust © 2022