The Chronicle

We moan about clichéd rock that’s produced to shift units more than for any musical values, but pull a face when something is difficult, and look down on music produced for people who don’t like music. But when something challenging comes along that pushes the boundaries it’s all: “What is this? Put that Jason Derulo back on for goodness sake.”

All of which is to say that this CD of new flute music is not easy. In parts it’s difficult but it does have its moments in a floating-in-the-universe kind of way. And it’s never as difficult as, say, modern piano or violin, the kind that grinds over the ears and the FBI could use to subdue maniacal end-of-days believers holed up in a ranch. At least the flute is close to human breath and the worst these pieces do is lack pattern.

Opener is Émoi by Evan Johnson for solo bass flute. We don’t even understand the explanatory notes
(“the instability of the exuberantly excessive notation’s relationship to instrument and to instrumentalist”) but Johnson gets a Brownie point for puns: “émoi” means “confusion, agitation caused by fear” Johnson makes the point that there’s all the technical stuff going on, “and moi: the performer”, and “et moi” sounds a bit like “emoi”. No? Perhaps you had to be there.

Esaias Järnegard’s Psalm (2011) is for voice and contrabass flute and has no pattern or context; avant-garde in its most vanguardy sense. Whoever’s following this is not yet even in sight.

Fabrice Fitch’s Agricola IX for solo flute and string trio is next, the Agricola being a composer (Alexander, d1506) and not a Roman. The title track describes a leaf floating down a stream, fast then slow, sometimes held up behind sticks, sometimes going around in circles. You get the picture. We read the sleeve notes and confused this with Agricola IX, which, with that image in mind, could be a leaf floating across deep water. Vale is more varied, and the flute represents several different kinds of motion. Certainly one for people who like the technical aspects of the flute, but also for people who like the avant-garde.

—Jeremy Condliffe