Concert Review

Flute and Piano Recital at the Lion Ballroom, Leominster
Sarah Newbold (flute), Michael Blackmore (piano)
Lion Ballroom, Leominster
9 March 2014

An Espressivo promotion

On Sunday 9 March at the Lion Ballroom, Leominster, flautist Sarah Newbold and pianist Michael Blackmore gave listeners a wonderfully varied and exciting concert. The programme began with a little known work for flute and piano, Donizetti’s Sonata in C. Donizetti was a prolific opera composer in the 19th century and that lyric style was very much in evidence here with this elegant work in two movements. Sarah’s tone never failed to sing with full conviction in the ‘Largo’ opening movement, following a sensitive opening from Michael. The ‘Allegro’ second movement was full of dramatic life and excitement, not least in the articulation employed by both performers, which was always clear in this quite lively acoustic.

Originally written for violin, viola and flute, Beethoven’s Serenade in D was here played in the flute and piano arrangement endorsed by the composer himself. This is a long work, in 6 movements, and credit goes to the performers for keeping interest throughout. Especially effective was the ‘Andante’ movement, which Sarah and Michael presented with the right amount of pathos and weightiness needed to convey this simple hymn-like melody to full effect. A series of variations brings the listener back to a more playful mood, with the ‘Allegro Scherzando’ and the final ‘Allegro’ being performed with a certain panache, leaving the audience smiling and feel suitably ‘Serenaded’.

Next was a piece of complete contrast, the Dutilleux Sonatine. This piece was composed as a test piece for the flute students at the Paris Conservatoire. It is a challenge for both performers, the flute and piano parts being intricately woven together in complex rhythms throughout. Although not quite rhythmically accurate, I didn’t mind as both performers seemed to enjoy the challenge of presenting this work with as wide a palette of colours as possible, making for an electrifying performance. Special mention should go to the flute cadenzas, being particularly effective with Sarah’s sound going from a searing intensity to an almost inaudible haunting sound: even sitting right at the back I was transfixed.

A world premiere opened the second half, Derek Smith’s ‘Winter’s Ending’, and on this wonderfully sunny day one really felt like winter was at an end. Derek, a local composer, gave an informative and useful spoken introduction to the piece, it using Greek mythology as inspiration. The piece itself is a very attractive one-movement work, using captivating harmonies that linked the four sections of the piece effectively. The piece depicts the mythical creature ‘Pan’ as the first rays of sun pierce his winter home; starting with a coolness that was expertly presented by Michael, that even in the warmth of the Lion Ballroom made one shiver. The music warms in character, ending with a dance ushering in the joy of spring, once again the articulation of the flute being beautifully suited to the music, adding real excitement to the dance rhythms.

Another 20th century piece followed, ‘Touching the Ether’ by Ian Clarke for flute and piano. Ian is a flautist as well as composer and this piece uses the singing qualities of the flute to full effect. Sarah’s spoken introduction helped in the understanding of the work: it was written in memory of his mother. The piece was played beautifully; Sarah truly sang out, creating the yearning qualities this piece calls for. It was played with such feeling that the audience really was taken on a journey during the piece, finally coming to resolve with a beautiful ending, Sarah leaving the final note spinning in the air perfectly.

Ending the programme was the Flute Sonata by Georgian composer Taktakishvili (1924-89). This piece takes its inspiration from Georgian folk-song, this being clearly evident in the opening movement. Sarah employed a clear singing sound, balancing nicely to Michael’s continual movement in the piano part. The second movement was perhaps the most successful; entitled ‘Aria’, I don’t think anyone in the audience was left unmoved by the performance given. The flute’s melody was rich and full of emotional direction, whilst Michael displayed good accompaniment, particularly in highlighting the harmonic language. The third movement was delivered with unadulterated energy. My only reservation here was the occasional over-excitement of the piano part, sometimes hiding the flute line when down in the lower register. However, this piece was very successful and left the audience feeling privileged to experience such music-making.

The very appreciative audience were treated to an encore, ‘Nocturne’ by Irish composer Geraldine Green. This is a very beautiful piece, based around a traditional Irish air. The performance left everyone in no doubt of the skill of the performers, particularly in really communicating the emotional content of the music.

This concert was promoted by Espressivo and was part of the Sunday Afternoon series at the Lion Ballroom. I urge you to go to the next one!

Matthew Mockford

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