GMCD 7344 – Following on – Music for flute, oboe and piano

Christopher ONeal (oboe), Kathron Sturrock (piano)

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International Record Review October 2010

Composers Francis Poulenc and Tim Ewers may not at first glance have much in common but they share a love of melody that comes out in this attractive collection of chamber music featuring oboe and flute, both with and without piano.
After receiving initial instruction in violin and piano from his music-teacher mother, Ewers (b.1958) soon took up the oboe and started composing while still at school. He went on to study with Reginald Smith¬Brindle, Robin Maconie and Stanley Glasser and is now a Senior Lecturer in music at Kingston University. His compositions have been performed by ensembles such as the Wallace Collection, Quorum and Gemini, as well as the Delta Saxophone Quartet, Morphosen and The Fibonacci Sequence, which performs all the works on this present disc.
Poulenc’s solo writing is primarily vocal, as one would expect from a master of the French melodies Ewers is both a modern composer and a practitioner, and is thus more willing to exploit the full resources of each instrument. Also of note here is the variety of combinations: both composers are represented by works for oboe and piano, flute and piano and piano solo, while Ewers also has a trio and two works for unaccompanied oboe and flute. The only combination missing is a (presumably unwritten) oboe and flute duet – a pity!
The disc opens with Poulenc’s final completed work, the Sonata for oboe and piano. It’s easy to read too much into the wistful lyricism here, but oboist Christopher O’Neal and pianist Kathron Sturrock don’t: the richness of the melodic material and the honeyed harmonies of the outer movements are painted with a light touch, while the central Scherzo is more laughing than, as Ewers has it, `spiteful’. The sonata for flute and piano further on in the programme is equally sensitively realized, with flautist Ileana Ruhemann relishing the avian flourishes of the Allegretto Malincolico and the neo-Baroque charm of the Contilena.
The final Poulenc work included here, and third in the programme, is the early Mélancolie for solo piano, which Sturrock plays with a measured freedom that seems entirely calculated to release any slight tensions remaining after the first Ewers item on the disc, Flautando for flute and piano. They are slight, the work being in part inspired by the sound-world of the Chinese flute while strangely recalliny the more declamatory aspects of the Déploration of the Poulenc sonata for oboe and piano.
The final work on the disc, and the one which gives it its name, brings us back to the same Poulenc sonata. Following On for oboe and piano takes the former’s four-note opening motif and, as Ewers says, `moves them in a different direction, while retaining something of the sonorous melancholy of the original’. It’s a beautiful work, contrasting lively passages with more reflective sections while containing occasional echoes of Poulenc, morc brief kisses than lingering embraces.
Before this is the colourful, searching trio Chimborazo inspired by the Ecuadorian mountain of that name; Kites for solo oboe, an early work written in honour of Ewers’s pianist aunt Barbara Wander, containing five short `flights of fancy’ on an initial theme; and Solitaire for solo flute, which explores various techniques and styles. Ewers likens it to `channel-surfing between different radio stations’. Finally, Rainy Days and Holidays for solo piano alternates chordal passages with fast-moving filigree episodes in rhythmic counterpoint.
Intimately recorded and with notes by Ewers, who provides a separate commentary on each of his pieces, `Following On’ is as much a portrait primarily of two instruments as it is of two composers. As such it will appeal to the general listener and the performer of those instruments alike.
Robert Levett