Tuesday, 1 July 2014

ROBERTO ALVAREZ Flute Recital / Woodwind Festival Singapore / Review

with Beatrice Lin, Piano
Woodwind Festival Singapore
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory
Saturday (28 June 2014)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 1 July 2014 with the title "A master of modern flute techniques".

The Spaniard Robert Alvarez, Principal Piccolo of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra for the past seven years, has established himself as one of the local classical scene’s most active chamber musicians. His concerts have featured numerous Singapore premieres of contemporary works, and his recital at the inaugural Woodwind Festival Singapore saw no less than two World Premieres and two Asian Premieres of Spanish and Ibero-American works.

Gentle and unassuming in personality, he nevertheless packed an encyclopaedic knowledge and mastery of modern flute techniques. This was never more apparent than in Salvador Espasa’s Poem Y Persecucion for solo flute, a tour de force of execution and showmanship. The slow section highlighted a combination of blowing and vocalisation, so that two separate tones were being produced simultaneously.

The effect of the metallic flute providing the melodic line, backed up by the human pharynx in a lower-pitched hum, was both other-worldly and unnerving. Other tricks of the trade included a percussive beat caused by tapping on the keys and a whistling-cum-whining sonority that resembled that of the Australian aboriginal didjeridoo, which is also a blown woodwind instrument of sorts.  

Santiago Baez’s Sonata, receiving its World Premiere, was scored for the longer and heavier alto flute, which brought out a lower pitched, mellower and more sensual tone. Tonal and impressionistic in colour, both flute and accompanist Beatrice Lin’s piano entered into a realm of fantasy. While the slow movement was a study in soothing legato playing, the brisk gambol of a finale spat out short spurts of dissonance before closing on an emphatic high.

Salvador Brotons Giravolts (Swirling) for solo flute is a spiritual descendent of Debussy’s epoch-making masterpiece Syrinx. Like its famous forebear, the sinuous melody that opens the work flirts with the limits of tonality, before breaking off into a quick virtuosic spell. Like the work by Espasa, this competition set-piece experimented with new technical devices.

Miguel Prida’s Para T (For Teresa), written for a mutual friend of Alvarez and the composer, was the concert’s most accessible work. Its congeniality and warmth, a conspicuous paucity of discordant harmonies and a lively rhythmic dance to end, was most probably a reflection of shared affection for its dedicatee.  

The final work, Venezuelan composer Raimundo Pineda’s Tres Serenos for piccolo and piano was literally a blast. The shrill high-pitched bird-like whistle of the diminutive instrument was an ear-piercing presence through its three short movements, meditations of things nocturnal. According to Alvarez, a sereno is a call made by one who wishes to enter a house late at night after the lights have gone off.

The contrasting pieces ran the gamut of dynamics from fast and virtuosic to calm and lyrical, before a lively ecstatic Hispanic dance rounded off an unusually stimulating recital. Anyone who doubts whether the tiny piccolo could out-thunder a grand piano on the decibel front had better believe it!

No comments: