Friday, May 15, 2020

Father, Son and the Godfather - Ashley Solomon (UK) performs unaccompanied flute works at a house concert in London

Photo: Jonas Sacks
On April 28th and May 5th and 12th 2020, British flautist and early music specialist Ashley Solomon performed three solo recitals in the conservatory of his London home. Tuning in on ZOOM, viewers from far and wide heard the artist perform and offer brief explanations on what he described as “almost all the unaccompanied solo works written for the transverse Baroque flute"  (traverso).  Prof. Solomon called his three concerts “Father, Son and the Godfather''. They included works of J.S.Bach, C.P.E.Bach and G.P.Telemann; the latter was godfather to Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach. 


In the first recital, we heard J.S.Bach’s Solo Partita in A minor BWV1013, referred to by Bach as “Solo pour la flûte traversière”;  Bach’s only known work for flute solo, it is, nevertheless, one of the undisputed gems of flute repertoire. When Bach was still working in Weimar, he met the French flautist Pierre Gabriel Buffardin on a visit to Dresden and it is very likely that he composed this partita as a result of hearing a true master of the transverse flute for the first time. Engaging in the different characters and  influences of its various dance styles, Solomon’s performance offered insight into the challenges Bach has set the flautist - rapid fingering changes, running 16th-notes, large leaps, minimal breath opportunities and its large range, from the instrument’s lowest  note to the sublime high ‘a” at the end of the Allemande.


The second program included C.P.E.Bach’s Solo Sonata in A minor Wq132. Interestingly, Johann Sebastian’s fifth child and second surviving son also chose the key of A minor for his only work for solo flute. With its three movements Poco Adagio, Allegro and Allegro, Carl Philipp Emanuel’s Sonata unequivocally belongs to the “empfindsam” style of the mid-18th century. It was composed in Berlin in 1747, the year the composer had taken a permanent position as chamber harpsichordist to King Friedrich II. The king was an accomplished flautist, his tutor no other than J.J.Quantz, but whether the work was actually written for- or played by Friedrich is not known. In keeping with Emanuel’s freedom of spirit, Solomon’s playing of the sonata invited the work’s agenda, with its improvisational, experimental, and dramatic characteristics, to suggest tempi, rubati and to engage in his palette of dynamics.


Despite his great love for the works of J.S.Bach, Ashley Solomon holds a special predilection for Telemann’s Twelve Fantasias for Solo Flute TWV 40:2-13, enjoying the constant discovery their invention and musical originality invite. Solomon recorded them for Channel Classics in 2017.  Arranged by key, progressing more or less in order from A major to G minor, leaving out (most of the) keys that do not sit comfortably on the instrument, the Flute Fantasias were published (curiously, or rather, erroneously) as “Fantasie per il Violino senza Basso” (Fantasias for Solo Violin) in Hamburg (1732–33).  A compendium of styles and genres of the period, they are concise, sharply profiled, individually crafted, well suited to flute idiom and of great artistic and didactic value to "connoisseurs and amateurs". However, considering Telemann was, himself, a virtuoso flautist, it is no wonder that this collection offers the soloist the opportunity to display to the full his and the instrument's potential for virtuosity, range of colours and expressive abilities. What was special about Solomon’s three recitals was hearing all twelve Fantasias, how they contrasts with each other and each within itself and how the movements stack up in the listener’s memory. Solomon’s playing displayed the rich kaleidoscope of diverse styles fashionable in Germany at the time, presenting courtly dances and songful, highly melodious pieces alongside folk-influenced movements. Enlisting the traverso’s timbral range, Solomon’s playing was at times infused with profound, pensive searching, at others, with vivacity and joie de vivre, with certain pieces delighting the listener with playfulness and humour. Solomon’s is the art of subtly recreating layers within a so-called "single melodic line" and of performing the miniature musical form, fashioning each pocket-sized piece into a complete whole, as he engaged in economical ornamenting and the heightening of key notes with just a hint of vibrato.


The artist offered interesting explanations on the various Baroque flutes he played. An extra treat was hearing pieces of Van Eyck and J.S.Bach performed on the recorder. Although attended by people in many locations, the intimacy of the artist’s private home made for a fitting venue for hearing musical repertoire of such a personal nature.


Combining a successful career across both theory and practice, Ashley Solomon is chair and head of Historical Performance at London's Royal College of Music, also holding masterclasses and lectures worldwide. As director of Florilegium, much of Solomon’s time is spent working and performing with the ensemble he co-founded in 1991. In 2002, Florilegium became involved with Bolivian Baroque and, since 2003, Prof. Solomon has been training vocalists and instrumentalists there, in 2008 becoming the first European to receive the prestigious Bolivian Hans Roth Prize. 





No comments: