Sonorous Sonatas. Fantasie Australis

Peter Sheridan and the Monash University Flute Ensemble
Classical, New Music
Move Records 3375 and 3366
Reviewed by , December 1st, 2015

I don’t usually put my hand up for reviewing new classical music. But I have a great liking for the low versions of orchestral instruments. I like the cor anglais more than the oboe. I love the bass clarinet and adore the tuba and the bass trombone. So when I saw that Sonorous Sonatas was a recording of low flutes I became intrigued.

OK… so I have to make an admission. I’m not a great fan of the western metal flute. It’s often a bit shrill for my liking. Maybe it’s the old hippy in me that prefers the ‘ethnic’ bamboo and wooden flutes of non-western cultures like the Japanese shakuhachi, the Andean quena, the Persian ney, the Indian bansuri and so on. But the low relatives of the western flute are another thing altogether.

Peter Sheriden and the subcontrabass flute

Peter Sheridan and the subcontrabass flute

I was astonished to discover that there are not only alto flutes and bass flutes – there are contrabass flutes and a bloke named Jelle Hogehuis from Holland has created a hyperbass or subcontrabass flute. Now, the subcontrabass flute has to be seen to be believed. It is 10 metres (32 feet) in length and even when it’s turned around like most brass instruments it stands taller than any of its players and looks like something that might come out of a plumber’s truck. Its sound is so low that it seems to come from the belly of a whale or the orifice of giant mastodon.

While both the CDs featured in this review include some tracks with the subcontrabass flute it is by no means the focus of the works. There is only one track on Sonorous Sonatas that includes this extraordinary instrument and while it is a member of the Monash University Flute Ensemble it’s not clear how many tracks on Fantasie Australis include it. The majority of tracks utilise all the other flutes from the piccolo to the contrabass.

Monash University Flute Ensemble directed by Peter Sheridan

Monash University Flute Ensemble directed by Peter Sheridan

The prime mover of all this exposition of the flute in all its forms is Melbourne based academic and flute enthusiast Peter Sheridan. The two CDs are in fact very different. While Sonorous Sonatas is a recording of Peter Sheridan playing low flutes in duets with piano, alto flute and piccolo, Fantasie Australis is a CD of large-scale pieces for the full Monash University Flute Ensemble often including twenty-one flautists. Peter Sheridan established this flute ensemble in 2010 and it has paved the way for many flautists and composers to explore the sonic possibilities of the extended flute family.

Don’t expect to hear a Bach fugue or a flute arrangement of the Brandenburg Concertos. These adventurous albums are all new music with mostly Australian composers commissioned by Peter Sheridan to explore the sonorities of the huge range of the western flute. The composers are Gary Schocker, Jane Hammond, Taran Carter, Jellie Hogenhuis, Andrew Downes, Carolyn Morris, Houston Dunleavy, Vincent Giles, Vaughan McAlley, Thomas Reiner, Russell Gilmour, Emma Rogers and Michael Rosiak.

Peter Sheridan and his collection of low flutes

Peter Sheridan and his collection of flutes

The large flute ensemble was once considered merely an educational tool. But with enthusiasts like Peter Sheridan and young composers writing innovative pieces it is now a recognised exponent of interesting new music. If you are a fan of the metal tube playing pure sweet sounds you should get one or both of these albums and be surprised at what the flute or many flutes can do.


Low flutes web page:

Peter Sheridan playing the subcontrabass flute:

See this video of and American ensemble including the subcontrabass flute:

Contrabass flute playing the blues:

A Japanese flute ensemble demonstrating flutes from the piccolo to the contrabass flute. Amusing and educational.(The contrabass flute player demonstrates his instrument by playing the Theme from The Pink Panther). When they play a scale covering all the six octaves that the full ensemble encompasses it goes from a very low rumble to something so high that it would make a dog go howling mad:

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