Concert review: Scintillating marriage of flute and harp

The flute and harp make a dynamic duo much like the violin and piano, except the timbres of the former are gentler, softer and milder compared to the latter's bowing and striking on metal strings. This lovely recital by Spanish flautist Roberto Alvarez and Malaysia-born harpist Katryna Tan on Sunday evening at Chijmes Hall was a showcase of this combo's most alluring repertoire. Its French title "Chanson De La Brise", translated as "Song of the Breeze" and an evocation of spring, pretty much said it all.

Opening with Bach's Sonata In E Flat Major, one could be forgiven for asking, "Which Bach?" The formal classical lines in its fast outer movements pointed to an era far removed from the baroque, while the central movement was the familiar lilting Siciliano In G Minor. Apparently this was a work by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Johann Sebastian's most famous son, but was mistakenly attributed to the father.

Straight off, Alvarez's crystal clear playing found scintillating accompaniment from Tan, no doubt helped by the cathedral's nicely reverberant acoustics. The sound lifted high up to the vault of the nave where there were thankfully no echoes. The only sour notes came from a female in the audience whose ill-advised choice to wear metallic bangles chimed like a tambourine throughout most of the recital.

Two of the works were contemplations of the night sky. Singapore composer Chen Zhangyi's Five Constellations gets ever more beautiful with each listen. His gift of melody and intimate scoring found a fertile response from both musicians, whose wonderment of the cosmos was translated into playing of sensitivity and refinement. The closing movement Eridanus, The River took on a slightly jazzy vibe, which brought this short cycle to a lively close.

Spaniard Miguel Prida's Motionless Vault was even shorter, its broad melodies flowed like the Milky Way, even if he was trying to portray a vast starless expanse above. This was contrasted with the longest single movement, in Saint-Saens' Fantasie Op.124, which was a rhapsodic but rambling work broken into different sections. Slow lyricism soon gave way to virtuosic display, which in turn took on a rhythmically Spanish flavour before closing in quiet serenity.

The major work in the recital was the four-movement Sonatina De Mai (May Sonatina) by Frenchman Jacques Casterede, composition teacher of the Singaporean composer Tan Chan Boon. This is an unpretentious piece of typically Gallic charm, with quaint little tunes and the occasional dissonance just to remind one that the composer had been a student of the great Messiaen. The slow second movement Chanson De La Brise, which gave its title to the concert, was a gentle pastorale which segued into yet another mystical night piece Danse Le Bleu De La Nuit (Blue Dance Of The Night).

The finale was an animated dance, with both Alvarez and Tan serving up a sumptuous pas de deux of skilful coordination. As an encore, Alvarez asked the audience, "Do you know Piazzolla?", and the duo launched into the Argentine tango-master's Bordel 1900 from The Story Of Tango, which included Tan beating out rhythms on the wood of her harp. In case anyone was not sated, the duo invited the audience to a post-concert buffet reception. In a word, delicious.