Flautist Sally Walker and harpist Emily Granger released their new album, Something Like This in October, on the UK-based independent classical music label Avie Records.
It is a debut collaboration for the two experienced musicians, showcasing the potential for this combination of instruments in original and transcribed pieces. The harp and flute are well matched yet contrasting in sound and complementary in what they offer – the flute, a single, sustained monophonic line against the more ephemeral and chordal sounds of the harp.
Something Like This contains music of allure and varied moods, played with tremendous skill tempered with tenderness. Not surprising as the album is, in part, dedicated to Walker’s late father James, with Elena Kats-Chernin’s eponymous piece illustrating moments from the last weeks of James’ life. There are ten pieces on the album, amounting to 17 tracks lasting just under an hour. The line-up includes pieces from the old masters J S Bach and W A Mozart, 20th century composers Ibert, Satie and Lutosławski and contemporary Australian composers Jessica Wells, Lachlan Skipworth, Christopher Sainsbury, Sally Greenaway and as already mentioned, Kats-Chernin.
The opening piece by Skipworth, Ode has been transcribed for flute and harp from its original scoring for piano and violin – and what a good idea! The piece is very well suited to performance by flute and harp. Built around the interval of a fifth, Walker twice soars into the higher registers of the flute, anchored by tinkling cross rhythms in the harp.
The Sonata in G minor for Violin (Flute) and Obbligato Harpsichord, BWV 1020 / H.542.5 attributed to J S Bach is another transcription, this time by Granger. Both instruments play melodic and arpeggiated passages, the first movement Allegro with vibrant motoric drive, the second movement Adagio with exemplary dynamic control garnished with just a touch of vibrato at the end of swelling long notes in the flute and the third movement Allegro calling for considerable technical versatility and agility from both partners, the harp a worthy emulator of the harpsichord.
Granger has also transcribed two of the Gymnopédie by Erik Satie. Claiming the No 1 for solo harp it is a mesmerising and gossamer-light rendition of this classic. In her arrangement of the No 3, she hands the melody to the flute whilst the harp takes the slowly swaying chordal textures.
Elena Kats-Chernin’s Something Like This is a bespoke composition for the pair, which receives its world premiere on this recording. Based on an impromptu fragment which Kats-Chernin wrote in tribute to James Walker, this engaging and melodious piece explores the darker shades of the instrumental pairing with shifting tonality and major to minor key changes, the melody ultimately releases into eternity in a fleet of fading glissandi.
Djagamara by Christopher Sainsbury is dedicated to the memory of another James, James Djagamara MacLeod an Indigenous friend of the composer. The piece premiered at a national Sorry Day concert in Canberra in 2018 where it was performed by the Griffyn Ensemble featuring Kiri Sollis on flute. Walker and Granger infuse the piece with melancholy it is designed to invoke, ultimately ending on a note of hope and redemption.
The second movement Andantino from Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp in C, K.299 is rightly second in the line-up on the disc as it is the only piece he wrote for harp and one of only two concerti for two instruments. Granger’s arrangement of this gem with its haunting theme, includes an adaptation of the orchestral introduction and all the tutti sections with the cadenza by the Welsh composer and harpist John Thomas. Each instrument has a share of the melody and the accompaniment, the harp being well suited to the Alberti bass in its accompanying passages. It is a piece for Walker in particular to show case her mastery of the classical style with its distinctive ornamentation and phrasing.
Sally Greenaway’s Poems I, II, III for the flute and harp from the original for cello and piano were inspired by the poem Roses du Soir by Pierre Louÿs and the composers of French mélodie (Art Song). Like Sati’ by Jessica Wells, transcribed from the original for violin and piano, there are more dramatic and brooding moment amongst the lightness.
Another favourite plucked instrument is referenced in Ibert’s theatrical Entr’acte written for flute or violin with guitar or harp. We hear the flute at its fieriest, declaiming the melody as the harp emulates the flamenco style of the guitar, although the harp too has its solo melodic moments. After a slower cadenza by the flute, both instruments come together to close the piece with a swirling tarantella-like figure.
Witold Lutosławski’s Three Fragments for Flute and Harp or Piano also has its roots in the theatre. Comprising three short movements, it’s an appealing triptych calling on technique and more tonally adventurous than the other pieces in this collection. The third piece is considerably different to the first two, the duo playing in the manner of a merry country dance that ends in a flourish.
The album is accompanied by a booklet containing musicological notes in English, French and German, written by Walker with contrbutions from the composers themselves.
Something Like This contains music of transcendent beauty, performed with finesse and technical expertise, by two performers who possess gilt-edged credentials. The album proposes and develops the potential for the flute and harp as a legitimate, stand-alone entity in chamber music, demonstrating that the combination is well able to perform music written for a variety of other forces.
Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©