north east scotland's festival of new music

press reviews

Margaret Preston, Flute

Written by Alan Cooper


I am not convinced that the Forecourt of Aberdeen Art Gallery is the ideal venue for every kind of concert and definitely not for an instrument of such sensitivity as the flute. In the first place, it tends to be a bit "airish" what with people coming and going, which of course they have every right to do. Secondly, and more crucially, many people passing through do not seem to realise that there is a special performance going on. They have not come to hear it so when the music got louder and louder the constant background droning of their unremitting conversation rose to the level of shouting and hollering. If it did not quite drown out the music, it did prove an annoying distraction.

"Time travel by solo flute" was the title that Margaret Preston had chosen for her recital and with a hint of good humour that underlined her entire performance, Margaret opened with just a couple of bars of the Theme from Dr Who on her solo flute.

I am in two minds about the very generous ratio of explanation to playing that was a feature of the concert. Some members of the audience commented that there was too much speaking. Nevertheless, Margaret's spoken delivery was clear, highly professional and often delightfully amusing. I for one certainly came away from the concert with a clearer idea of the history of music for the solo flute from the late seventeenth century to the present day.

Jacques Hotteterre was the composer from a family of flute makers who started it all off, or at least he was the first to commit music for solo flute to paper. Margaret gave a splendid performance of his piece entitled Ecos that is to say Echoes and this music gave us precisely what it said on the tin. The music presented a series of ever more complex musical phrases each of which Margaret managed to convey in echo, something which went beyond mere lowering of the volume. A careful altering of emphasis did indeed come across as a realistic echo.

A different kind of echo ran through Bach's four-movement Partita in a minor. As Margaret commented, this music has a close affinity with the composer's keyboard writing and here especially in her playing of the Courrente and the Bourrée Anglaise she captured all the virtuosity of Bach's writing.

Possibly the most celebrated of all pieces for solo flute is Debussy's Syrinx. It has passed out of the world of what Margaret referred to as "flute anoraks" and into the general repertoire where it holds a well respected place. For Saturday's concert Margaret used an alto flute and this intensified the mirage-like quality of the music splendidly.

Density 21.5 by Edgard Varèse is one of the most celebrated twentieth century pieces for solo flute. Margaret's performance was wonderfully intense and exciting although, she told us, her dog hates this piece.

The Great Train Race by Ian Clark was a splendid example of virtuoso playing with quite a few avant-garde techniques used to expressive effect.

The final work in the concert was by a composer who is not only still alive but taking a prominent role in the performance. It was Margaret Preston herself. For In Hymn to the Whale she had assembled a small flute orchestra. Along with Margaret, there was Angela Craig and on alto flutes, Gillian Watt and Rachel Gill. They were the sound of the ocean waves while on double bass, Peter Bruce was the whale and mankind was represented by bass singer and narrator Robert Wilson. Even the audience was drawn into the action egged on and conducted by Karan Raitt. We were to supply the splash of the waves breaking on the shore while one brave gentleman in the audience was selected to be a seagull. The piece was not only very attractive, it was fun as well and the audience members who took part were delighted to be able to make their own special contribution to the Sound Festival. I am sure that Margaret Preston's piece will be the one they will always remember from this concert. Their "shush" even silenced the chatterers by the door of the Forecourt.

  • published on 30 October 2010
  • written by Alan Cooper

Reproduced with permission of the author.

reviewed event
  Date Day Time Location Event Details
30Sat 1.00 pmAberdeenMargaret Preston, flute