Inspirational folk music

REVIEW / CONCERT

PICNIC SUITE

Roberto Alvarez, flute/Kevin Loh, guitar, et al

Esplanade Recital Studio/Sunday

Spanish flautist Roberto Alvarez has introduced more new music to audiences here than anyone else, including world and local premieres of works by Spanish, Singaporean and New Zealand composers. His latest concert, a collaboration with HSBC Youth Excellence Award recipient guitarist Kevin Loh, however, shied away from the avant-garde.

All the works had inspirations from folk music and the past, beginning with Maximo Diego Pujol's Suite Buenos Aires with four movements reflecting colours and flavours of different districts in the Argentine capital. There were similarities to Piazzolla's Portenos (Seasons), but these were not tangos.

Palermo exuded melancholy and nostalgia, while the scherzo-like San Telmo had vigorous rhythms tapped out by Alvarez's feet and Loh's hands.

If one thought Alvarez had all the melodies, Loh showed that his nifty guitar provided more than mere accompaniment. With a good share of lyricism and virtuosic flourishes, he closely tracked the flute in the finale Microcentro, through perpetual motion with spiky dissonances for good effect.

Moving to Brazilian music, Celso Machado's Musiques Populaires Bresiliennes exhibited a more gentle side, with less angular and jolting rhythms but no less spirit. Three movements included the title Choros (songs of street musicians), a form also employed by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. With little separating folk from concert music, only a pedant could resist the allure of Sambossa, a bossa nova number lightly spiced with some harmonic ambiguity. This led to Pe De Moleque, a fast and lively samba.

The most traditional work was Hungarian Bela Bartok's Six Romanian Dances, a popular study of ethnomusicology. Better known in its version for violin and piano, the flute and guitar interpretation was no less piquant. But should the audience have applauded after each minute-long dance?

The duo was joined by pianist Kseniia Vokhmianina, double-bassist Tony Makarome and drummer Ramu Thiruyanam in French jazz pianist-composer Claude Bolling's Picnic Suite, receiving its Singapore premiere. Cast in seven movements, it is a tribute to the baroque suite of disparate dances.

The first movement Rococo opened with a fugue. Guitar followed flute, and when the "orchestra" entered, it opened up a new world of sound - of syncopations, blues and collective letting down of hair. Every phrase had been notated on score, but the playing was so natural and convincing that it sounded fresh and improvised.

Gaylancholic was the title of the third movement, swinging between the two groups, a friendly contest where formal lines alternated with the seemingly informal. "Gay" must be taken in the traditional sense of the word, which means happy.

Alvarez turned to the alto flute for the lyrical Tendre, a beautiful interlude before the busy bantering of Badine, a reference to Bach's Badinerie from his Second Suite (which prominently features the flute).

There were two gratefully received encores, a dance by Pixinguinha and an Asturian lullaby sung to Alvarez by his mother. The latter was also a world premiere.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 18, 2017, with the headline 'Inspirational folk music'. Print Edition | Subscribe