Kathryn Thomas Recital – 14 October

Lili Boulanger
Sicilienne et burlesque
Prelude, récitatif et variations
Cantabile et presto
Arabesque in memoriam
Vermont Counterpoint
Density 21.5

Kathryn Thomas (flute)
Lawrence Power (viola)
Richard Shaw (piano)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 14 October, 2002
Venue: Purcell Room, London

Mozart apparently didn’t have much time for the flute, and while this might be irrelevant, there is perhaps a perception that a whole evening involving the treble register and numerous arabesques is less than appealing. Such thoughts, you understand, bear little relation to either this recital or, indeed, the skills of Kathryn Thomas, the flautist of the highly regarded Galliard Ensemble.

In any case she chose an attractively inviting programme and brought it off with style and sensitivity. Thomas’s playing is without labour – both technically and communicatively, which sparkles with warmth. Does she play Malcolm Arnold’s concertos, I wonder? One doubt though is her audible intakes of breath that occasionally seem too long and act as unwanted punctuation within a phrase.

With Richard Shaw an excellent accompanist – and rather more than that in Duruflé’s piece where three-part dialogue was beautifully entwined – this concert was of two distinct halves, one of French music, the other of American. Maybe better to have mixed the pieces – the French part became a bit samey, and I’m not sure having the American minimalist composers one after the other was a good idea.

The most substantial pieces framed the interval. Duruflé’s lovely work is for flute, viola (or cello, as at this year’s Proms) and piano. Lawrence Power made an impressive contribution to this wide-ranging work that suggests there is more to Duruflé than his Requiem (although not much more given he was so self-critical). Copland’s Duo is his final music (despite the composer living another twenty years or so). From the opening nostalgic return to Appalachian Spring to more terse writing, this distillation of Copland’s art was affectingly brought off, even if it’s Copland’s force of personality that shines through more often than truly memorable invention. In this respect there was nothing lovelier than Barber’s Canzone (composer-arranged from the Piano Concerto’s slow movement) and nothing more original than Varèse’s Density 21.5 (the density of platinum, sometimes used to make flutes with). How evocative this piece sounded tonight, the innovative percussive use of the flute’s keys rendered without apology. (Varèse, in the American camp, was born in Paris and went to New York.)

The recital opened with easeful Enescu (Romanian-born, Paris-domiciled), the ’Presto’ delightfully uncomplicated. Casella teased us with unexpected harmonies and then let his hair down in the ’Burlesque’ with a rondo folk-tune that Milhaud might have used in Suite Provençale. Sister of Nadia, Lili Boulanger’s pastoral Nocturne, although by no means as original as other pieces of hers, was individual enough to remind that we lost a major talent when she died in her mid-’twenties. Florent Schmitt’s light and dextrous piece comes as a surprise if you know his full-blown orchestral works.

Of the minimalists, Philip Glass’s re-iterated, rather pretty Arabesque proved quite touching, but Steve Reich’s Vermont Counterpoint, despite its clever pre-mixed strata of flute lines, seems to this listener an unhappy mix of live and recorded sounds, despite Kathryn Thomas’s agility. Either surrender to or battle against the mind-numbing repetitiveness, I’m only giving my name, rank and serial-number!

Richard Shaw returned for an encore, an urbane ditty by Michael Torke. All in all, this enterprising recital was brought off with charm and expertise and made for a worthwhile evening.

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