Shimmering echoes on the flute

In the nine years Spanish flautist Roberto Alvarez has lived in Singapore, he has garnered a reputation of being the keenest advocate of new flute music, responsible for innumerable commissions and premieres.

His outsized talent and modest personality have won many friends among composers, performers and listeners.

His latest concert was typical of his catholic tastes and wide- ranging repertoire. Singaporean Zechariah Goh Toh Chai's Images My Dream Saw were three studies in merging disparate timbres of flute and piano.

The opening Alone In A Bamboo Forest was an elaborate solo played against the grand piano's open strings.

Reflected sounds and shimmering echoes provided a haunting effect, contrasted with stark piano chords from Shane Thio in Rustling In The Pine Trees, over which the flute provided a more flowing narrative. Portamentos (sliding tones) simulated the style of the bamboo flute. In Phoenix's Dance - Falling Petals, the imaginary birdsong took swift flight before closing in sedate piano chords.



    Roberto Alvarez, flute, et al

    Esplanade Recital Studio/Tuesday

German composer Gisbert Nather's Joke was more light- hearted, with Yang Tien's harpsichord providing a comedic edge with clattery chatter and treadmill- exercise accompaniments. A slow pastoral opening soon gave way to fast cheerful music resembling that of cartoon chases, with percussive outbursts from Alvarez's sputtering flute.

Also on harpsichord was Canadian R. Murray Schafer's neo-baroque Sonatina, with Bachian counterpoint and astringent themes reminiscent of Hindemith and other modernists. There was a manic edge to the music, which saw keyboard note-clusters and flutter tonguing among the effects that lit up the score at its schizophrenic end.

The first of three world premieres was Spaniard Jose Nieto's Angelasia, composed for his niece Angela who had moved to Singapore. A tour de force of solo playing, it obliged Alvarez to intermittently tap out flamenco rhythms on his right foot while maintaining legato lines on the flute.

The flute had its percussive movements, with tones spat out vehemently. To cap it all, passages of bitonal playing were produced by humming and low groaning, the flautist's version of throat singing.

More traditional was the world premiere of Spaniard Luis Serrano Alarcon's La Flute De La Lune (The Flute Of The Moon), a straightforward romantic nocturne, a dreamy melody with spots of passion and agitation (and more flutter-tonguing) at its centre.

Singaporean Daniel Lim's Fata Morgana was a most ambitious work, scored for alto flute, piccolo, piano and harpsichord. Its title has to do with visual and aural mirages, a kind of perceptional deception with themes heard on the reeds and mimicked by keyboards, as if heard through a musical distorting mirror.

The piano and harpsichord initially coalesced like water and oil in its slow introduction, but as the tempo picked up in the fast minimalist development, their respective timbres merged in a strangely harmonious way, enlivened by the flutes' darting interjections.

A fascinating world premiere, delivered by the most sympathetic of performers, was met with the warmest reception.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 10, 2016, with the headline 'Shimmering echoes on the flute'. Print Edition | Subscribe