American Record Guide

Flutist Richard Craig has extensive background in avant-garde music, including collaborations with many composers. This program presents a number of (for the most part) solo pieces written across the range of the flute family, from bass flute to piccolo. There is a conviction and enthusiasm in this playing that holds your attention and promotes the idiom as well as anyone else can. I have never been very fond of the bass flute, but I found a solo I’d be delighted to play, if only I could do it justice, as he does.

There are two works by established representatives of the avant-garde, Ferneyhough and Sciarrino; the rest are more recent pieces by newcomers. Brian Ferneyhough’s Unity Capsule (1975-6) is a frantic excursion that “partakes, via its title, in the alchemicoscientific theme pervading Ferneyhough’s work of this period, but also in the thoroughgoing examination, deconstruction, and reassembling of material on a multiplicity of levels that was, and still is to some extent, the composer’s signature style”. Two paragraphs and 11 minutes of this.

Evan Johnson intermingles piccolo sounds with violin harmonics and other high notes in his Art de Toucher le Clavecin 2 (2009), named for a famous treatise by Couperin. Most of these sounds are gently or barely played. Malin Bang seems most interested in air sounds in her alto flute piece Alpha Waves (2008); but it also has deep grunts and whispers that are disturbing,

eerie, and ominous. Salvatore Sciarrino is “exploring the obsessive and often teetering on the brink of audibility” in Venere Che Le Grazie La Fioriscono (1989; wouldn’t he, Scelsi, and Webern be fun at a party?). The title refers to a painting by Botticelli with Venus and the three Graces. Some of his piece is composed in whistle tones, which can only be produced by barely blowing into the instrument. Why Craig is breathing so much at the beginning is beyond me. The rest is fashioned primarily of similar soft breaths and blow—and occasional key clicks, another soft sound—but progressively builds in energy. A performance without amplification would be pointless even in a recital hall, but here you can hear all its nuances up close.

Dominik Karski turns the bass flute into its own percussion section with Streamforms (2003); rarely are the usual sort of sounds produced. One moment curiously sounds almost like a squeaking metal gate moving back and forth. The lone selection with electronics, John Croft’s . . . ne l’aura che trema (2007-10), “follows the purist approach of the earlier Sonata for cello and concert electronics and the more recent . . . mit schwarzem Glanz for viola and electronics, whereby sound files, score-following, and the intervention of a computer operator are all foregone in favor of the computer’s immediate response to the present sound: all available elements of the sound are extracted and mapped to a complex network of spectral and granular treatments, yielding a kind of extended instrument controlled entirely by the flautist.” This is an enveloping and atmospheric 13-minute piece with brief agitated sections toward the end.

In 1994-5, Richard Barrett wrote a large composition for flute, bass recorder, hardanger fiddle, percussion, soprano, and mezzo soprano; Inward for flute and percussion forms its core. Both the flute and the pitched percussion parts are based on (and around) the note G-sharp; but this work is not tonal in the, say, Peteris Vasks sense. This predominantly quiet piece reminds me more of Takemitsu and Hosokawa. From a “hazy background overlaid with a stuttering, inarticulate monolog, more threatening sounds . . . propel the listener out into the reality of the world, the painful legacy of a century of pain and persecution”.

Much of this program is clearly conceptual music, and much of the playing and sound effects occur at the softer end of the dynamic spectrum. Rarely does Craig even produce sound the traditional way. Anyone who has interest in the avant-garde will find reward in the playing and selections here.