Those who savour lesser-known composers (and one whose fame should grow) or infrequently heard ensembles will thoroughly enjoy this collection of flute-family music. The eighteen tracks are a marvellous cornucopia of styles, hues and textures produced by the considerable skills of Opus Four (Cathy Baerg, Kirsten Carlson, Natasha Chapman, Loyda Lastra) with harpist/arranger Mary Muckle adding extra sparkle to Sondra Tucker’s brief exploration (originally for flutes and guitar) of “Greensleeves” (which could only be improved by adding additional variations).
Recorded in Ottawa at the Carleton Memorial Church, sound engineer Quentin Meek has done a stellar job of keeping the proceedings clearly balanced and reverberant lite (marred only by a distant airplane that made an unexpected pass-by during “Parents’ Hope for Children”—can we ever have a few moments of complete silence in this ‘modern’ world?).
Mark Fromm’s Dances of the Lake is a silvery soundscape which demonstrates the composer’s ability to employ both sound and substance in shaping his music. Shimmering gossamer tone immediately attracts the ear in the first movement as the collective searches for consonance—surviving a few scrappy interventions—with nearly perfect pitch. The “Andante animato’s” solo line bends easily into consciousness over a bed of dark silver while the harmonic journey seems secure until a pang of bitter sweetness provides artistic truth and pause. The marking “flutteranzo” might well be invented for the engagingly energetic “Presto” which can’t help but fathom up the ghosts of Ibert and Satie. A series of broad, big chords then set the stage for a quick race to the cottage door.
In many ways, Fromm’s encore, Frozen Leaves, is the finest writing and performance of the disc. It’s filled with a wonderful texture and tone that, like the string quartet—here using a pair of piccolos, flute and alto flute to provide the homogeneity of sound—allow for a wide range of expression and colour. The writing is carefully crafted, somewhat of an ode to the reality of Canadian countryside and temperatures; for a time it seems the leaves swirl upwards from their wintry graves, before a petite Invitation to the Dance takes a brief turn even as the airy lines slip back to a state of rest.
Alexander Tcherepnin’s Quartet is at times regal (“In the Church,” which must have been located within melodic range of the “Great Gate of Kiev”) thoughtfully gentle (“Parents’ Hope for Children”) or infused with happiness and joy (“In the Kitchen” where the clock could be heard but the offbeats might have been tighter).
Animal lovers will enjoy Marc Berthomieu’s Chats. “Persan bleu”: cool and feline (especially the alto flute) with a touch of jazz and Mother Goose finish; “Puma”: all dressed up with melody to go, rooted in a tune straight from television land; “Siamois”: most certainly the literal and musical centre of attention, featuring well-pruned articulation; “Lynx”: this cat strolls effortlessly, sports a moody personality with the flautists demonstrating fine blend and balance throughout; “Chat perché”: with eyes wide shut, the image of a frisky kitten after a ball of wool is conjured up before a quick timeout prepares the way for the Rossini-like finish.
Joseph Lauber’s Bonaparte set is a quintet of vignettes which display his personal style while borrowing generously from his fellow composers (the melodic lines of “Le Maquis” owe much to Robert Schumann and the jaunty “La Citadelle de Corte” sports several measures that can be traced note-for-note to Bizet’s equally zesty Jeux d’Enfants). No worries, they work equally well in both settings. The middle frame, “Sérénade” with its twinge of melodrama and numerous changes of pace would make a great film score. Perhaps a mixed-media project for the future?
Here’s to more recordings from Opus Four and important commissions for Fromm. We’ll be listening. JWR