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27 October - 28 November 2007
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University Music
21 November 2007

Richard Craig, flute, and John Croft, electronics

Taking a cue from John Kenny’s mind-boggling displays of avant-garde virtuosity on trombone, carnyx and many other instruments last week, University Music along with the sound Festival presented yet another avant-garde wind player of astounding ability, this time the youthful flautist, Richard Craig. With him came composer John Croft to handle the electronic element in his piece ne l’aura che trema which brought the performance to a startlingly evocative conclusion. It should be noted that every one of the pieces in the programme was receiving either its UK or its Scottish premiere; just what sound is all about.

Much of the music was of startling delicacy as Richard Craig brought the dynamic of the flute to the very edge of audibility. The opening piece, Unanswered Questions for solo flute by Tristan Murail was a case in point. Of the six pieces in the programme this was the one which seemed closest to the tradition of solo flute classics by composers such as Debussy or Ibert. It radiated a cool, fragile stillness; a sound of such brittle clarity as I have never heard before. The more avant-garde elements in this piece included effects such as the use of microtones. These were beautifully incorporated into the fabric of the piece.

The two works by Scottish composers which followed bore a remarkable similarity to one another. Gone was the stillness of Unanswered Questions and instead, if James Dillon’s Sgothan referred to clouds, he must have been watching a speeded up film of them since the music was phrased in sudden surges of activity and the breathy whiffles that were such a feature of the piece made the music seem to swish past at a dizzying pace. It seemed to me that Brian Ferneyhough must have been selecting his technical effects out of the same catalogue as James Dillon for his Carceri D’inventioni for solo flute. I liked both James Dillon’s and Brian Ferneyhough’s pieces but having them so close together seemed to diminish the overall effect.

Venere che le grazie la fiorniscono for solo flute by Salvatore Sciarrino was a welcome contrast in sound textures. Here, the flute sounded breathy, hollow and strangely distant while the percussive use of the keys produced amazing drum-like effects. The abrupt ending of the piece was rather effective too.

In his amazing short piece, Kaspar Hauser Lied for solo piccolo, José Luis Torá caused the music to progress simultaneously on two levels, one more actively on the piccolo’s upper ranges, and the other almost stationary at a much lower pitch. I found this fascinating and I was sorry it ended so soon.

I have already mentioned the startlingly evocative nature of the concluding piece, ne l’aura che trema for alto flute and electronics. It opened with alto flute by itself then the electronic element made a splendidly discreet entry. The two elements of the piece were superbly well co-ordinated, the electronics mostly providing either an echo or an extension of what the flute was doing. If you thought of the description of the verses in Dante’s Inferno mentioned in the programme note while listening to this music, the effect was overwhelming.


Copyright Alan Cooper
Thanks to University Music



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