MUSIC / Gone with the woodwind

Easter Flute Festival QEH, London
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The Independent Culture
Discovery is the essence of festivals, and the London Easter Flute Festival, running for Sunday and Monday at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room, had plenty of surprises on offer. There was music for the Japanese end-blown flute, the shakuhachi, and from nearer home, jazz flute septets and Irish flute music. A Young Artists' Competition, presented by Atarah Ben-Tovim, gave a competitive edge to the proceedings. In addition, there was unfamiliar music by new and old composers, the special feature being a little-known guest of honour, the Czech composer Jindrich Feld.

Born in Prague in 1925, Feld has specialised in creating a repertoire for the instrument that, on the evidence of works threaded through the festival, merits wider recognition here in the United Kingdom. More pungent than Hindemith or our own Lennox Berkeley, to name two composers of famous flute music, his style has the rigour of Bartok, dedicatee of the third of the Quatre Pices pour flte seule. In two trios for flute, cello and piano, performed in the same Queen Elizabeth Hall concert on Sunday evening, the rhythmic agility of his compatriot Martinu was also much in evidence.

But a special force in Feld's clearly intimate relationship with the flute is his ability to blend it faultlessly with avant-garde playing techniques. A 1957 Sonata, given by Evelyn Frank and the pianist Roy Stratford, was brisk and alert, though uneventful in this regard. But in a four-movement Quintetto Capriccioso, receiving its world premire, and a Fantaisie Concertante for flute and orchestra (heard the following evening with the same expert soloist, Susan Milan), effects of silent key tapping and voiceless blowing through the instrument were woven into the argument without obtrusion.

Polish-style ad libbing, a kind of stuttering group improvisation otherwise known as aleatoricism, also featured in the final section of the Fantaisie. Preceding a sinuous procession for flute in its haunting lowest register, the first part set brittle, col legno effects on the strings of the English Chamber Orchestra against a seamless, undulating flute melody. In this regard, the Quintetto went even further, strings accompanying the soloist with hollow, wooden sounds made from tapping the bodies of their instruments, and contrasting these with textures of glassy harmonics and atmospheric harp glissandi.

William Bennett, doyen of flautists, drew on limitless reserves of breath to play Kennan's Night Soliloquy and Griffes's Poem, a mixture of chant and dance in the Celtic ballad style of Arnold Bax. Gian-Luca Petrucci gave the first modern performance of Mercadante's Concerto, a theme and variations capped by a tearaway Rossini crescendo. From a younger generation, Suzanne Godfrey, winner of the 1995 Young Artists' Competition, was a captivating soloist in Mozart's D major Concerto. A delight to watch, her elegant platform manner was the counterpart of a serious, dedicated technique that worked in harness with a sense of the music's airy spirit. Ian Brown shaped an unobtrusive accompaniment, forsaking his usual role as pianist for the conductor's baton.