Flutist Matthieu Clavé,, pianist Erika Tazawa and clarinetist Ted Gurch perform "Tarantelle" by Camille Saint-Saëns. (credit: Heather Clavé)

Review: French and American music featured in “Under Construction”

Curtis Bryant | 12 NOV 2019

“Under Construction,” Concert III by The Soundscape Series, under the artistic direction of Matthieu Clavé, presented a program of new and rarely heard chamber music this past Sunday at Spivey Hall on the campus of Clayton State University. Performers included violinist Kevin Chaney, flutist Matthieu Clavé, clarinetist Ted Gurch, percussionist Victor Pons, and pianist Erika Tazawa. the concert was sponsored in part by Francophonie Atlanta and the Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs.

Kicking off the program was an arrangement of the well known Syrinx by Claude Debussy, mise en résonance for three flutes by François Narboni. Originally composed for solo flute, this reworking features drone and echo effects, all derived from the parent work, creating an eerie, three dimensional impression. Flutists Angela Hart and Shayla Hutchinson assisted principal Matthieu Clavé in the performance.

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Singaporean composer Emily Koh’s synpunkt (2013) for flute, clarinet and percussion commences with key clicks and short breathy notes in the winds, punctuated by dry strikes on suspended cymbal, gradually building into a spirited dialog between the contrasting timbres. She explains that the title is derived from the Swedish word for “comment” or “opinion,” literally meaning “the ability to see points.” Indeed, much of the work could be described as pointillistic. Koh is Assistant Professor of Composition at the Hugh Hodgson School of Music, University of Georgia.

Alvin Singleton has called Atlanta home since 1985 when he became Composer-in-Residence with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. An early work, his Argoru III, composed in 1971, is written for solo flute. The title is derived from the word “to play” in the Twi language of Ghana. It aptly describes the short virtuosic piece, which features bent tones and wide dynamic contrasts.

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Making a stylistic leap to the postromantic era, the next piece on the program was the Suite en trio for flute, violin and piano by Mel (Mélanie) Bonis (1858-1937). Composed in 1903, the three short movements display a richness of form in the tradition of the late French Romantics, Franck and Fauré. Kevin Chaney’s violin playing beautifully matched Matthieu Clavé’s silvery tone on the flute, sensitively complemented in the piano by Erika Tazawa.

Meira Warshauer’s Bati l’Gani gains its inspiration from the Song of Songs “I have come into my garden.” Originally composed for flute and unpitched percussion, the plaintive and lyrical meditation was here performed as a flute solo.

l-r: Victor Pons, Ted Gurch, Erika Tazawa, Kevin Chaney and Matthieu Clavé. (credit: Heather Clavé)

l-r: Victor Pons, Ted Gurch, Erika Tazawa, Kevin Chaney and Matthieu Clavé. (credit: Heather Clavé)

Perhaps the best known work on the program was the Tarantelle by Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921). Originally composed for flute, clarinet and orchestra, the piece is frequently performed as a trio with piano, as it was here, and the match of instrumental color in this chamber format is stunning. Ted Gurch’s rich chalumeau and clean clarion paired beautifully with Clavé’s flute and Tazawa’s precise touch on the piano. This was a real crowd pleaser.

The final piece on the program was also a world premiere: Nicole Chamberlain’s Aimer, c’est agir for flute and vibraphone. The work was inspired by Victor Hugo’s last words, “To love is to act.” Based on a simple five-note motive, the duet builds slowly in fits and starts, punctuated with foot stomps from both players. It evolves into a fast dance with an almost samba-like lilt before returning to the more somber opening theme. Percussionist Victor Pons performed with flare on the vibraphone, complimenting Mr. Clavé’s sterling playing on the flute. Ms. Chamberlain, an accomplished flutist herself, has received numerous commissions including her children’s opera Rabbit Tales, which received over 50 performances as part of the Atlanta Opera’s education outreach program. ■

Atlanta native Curtis Bryant is a composer of music for concert, drama and television. His second full-length opera, The Secret Agent, was premiered in 2013 by the Capitol City Opera Company.