William Ford | 10 FEB 2021
Located just north of Atlanta, Kennesaw State University has developed a robust School of Music, with faculty well-known regionally and nationally. Two distinguished faculty members – Christina Smith, flute and Robert Henry, piano — presented an online recital from Kennesaw’s Bailey Performance Center. Ms Smith is best known as the principal flute for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and as a soloist appearing with ensembles throughout the country. Mr. Henry is an internationally renowned soloist, recitalist, accompanist, and chamber musician.
The video stream effectively used various camera angles to provide details to the viewer that are often missed in live concerts, especially the nimble fingers of both musicians. Programs notes were provided online, but they lacked any discussion of the actual music.
The recital began with J.S. Bach’s Partita in A minor for solo flute (BWV 1013), which was likely his first solo piece for this instrument. The piece has four movements in the style of dances popular in the composer’s era, i.e., “Allemande,” Corrente,” “Sarabande,” and “Bouree angloise.” This was an approach the composer used in other works such as his Orchestral Suites. The actual date of composition is unclear, although generally it was thought to have been developed between 1717-1723. The work is a showcase for Ms Smith’s technical ability, including her prowess at rapid fingering changes and prodigious breath control. The Partita takes advantage of the full range of the flute, from its lowest possible note to a high A. Ms Smith played the work from memory, no small feat in itself. Bach was an organist, and the influence of that instrument on the Partita is clear — it is as if the piece is being performed by a single pipe! This was a first-rate performance by a flutist who is at the top of her musical abilities.
Mr. Henry joined Ms Smith for the Duvernoy Concertino for flute and piano, written as an exam piece in 1899. While it is a staple in the flute repertoire, it is a frothy piece that is in distinct contrast to the denser-sounding works developed by contemporaneous central European composers. The final half is particularly jaunty as if the composer were on a brisk mental walk through the Tuileries. It was apparent both artists enjoyed playing the music and their balances were impeccable.
Enescu’s 1904- Cantabile et Presto for flute and piano followed. For as famous as he was as a violinist and composer in the early 20th century, he is now mostly known for his energetic and colorful Romanian Rhapsodies. As many of Bach’s works were influenced by his gifts as an organist, so too Enescu’s works are infused with his sensibilities as a virtuosic violinist; he prefers the interplay of lines rather than harmonic complexity. The low register of the Cantabile section sings with melody and warmth and Presto is infused with Romanian style and rapidly repeated notes. Both Smith and Henry easily tamed the technical demands of the music and again demonstrated their tightly woven conception of the work.
The final work was Schubert’s 1824 Sonata in A minor for Arpeggione and Piano, where a flute sometimes substitutes for the long-forgotten guitar played with a bow that had a brief splash in the early 1800s. The Sonata was not published until 1871 when the arpeggione was long past its “use by” date. The first movement “Allegro moderato” begins with a soulful, wistful melody shared by both instruments that leads to a joyful second theme. The hymn-like second movement is earnest and warm, but not despondent. The final Allegretto suggests Hungarian folk music full of contrasts and always spirited. As was apparent throughout this concert, both Smith and Henry played this music with technical and musical skill. In lesser hands, the piano might overwhelm the flute, but the duo was so attuned to each other that balances and imprecision were never an issue. Kudos also to the sound engineers for sophisticated microphone placement.
In summary, this was a nice survey of favorite works for flute and piano, performed by two experienced and sophisticated artists. ■