October 2008, New Release Reviews,
by Jim Langabeer
Carl Vine Sonata for flute, KIC-CD-7658, Alexa Still, flute, Stephen Gosling, piano
Another fabulous release by Alexa Still, again focusing on recent works for flute and piano duo. In all there are twelve compositions (16 tracks) making a full programme of mostly as yet unknown gems. In order: Orange Dawn: Ian Clarke; Achat Sha’alti: Paul Schoenfield; Sonata for flute and piano: Carl Vine; Allegro Rusticana: Sofia Gubaidulina; All the Words to All the Songs: Dan Welcher; Soaring: Joseph Schwantner; Three Songs without Words: Paul Ben-Haim; Ufarastra (valentine): Paul Schoenfield; I Dream’d in a Dream: Glen B. Cortese; Black Anemones: Joseph Schwantner; Klange des Waldes (Sounds of the Forest): Sofia Gubaidulina; and Goldfish Through Summer Rain: Anne Boyd.
The booklet of liner notes is helpful with interesting backgrounds to compositions and composers. Within a song without words or tone poem genre there are several different and effective compositional styles.
Orange Dawn is a remarkable tone poem using a variety of flute techniques to create a musical soundscape, and the interplay between flute and piano is a joy to experience. The title Sonata in three contrasting movements is more dance-like; rhythmically strong, flowing, and yet gentle, unfolding like a pas-de-deux.
The many moods of the disc ebb and flow, and some will have that “I’d love to play this” tug on the heart-strings of flute players. To hear these amazing players presenting such a concert live would be a very special experience; in the meantime this CD will have to do! Repeated listenings are a must.
|Flute Talk Magazine,|
December 2008, C.D. reviews,
by Victoria Jicha
Carl Vine: Sonata for Flute
Alexa Still and pianist Stephen Golsing perform works by 20th century composers. This magnificent recording opens with Ian Clarke’s Orange Dawn, which begins with flute slides that Still handles expertly. What many of her peers might consider special techniques are handled so easily by Still, that they seem traditional. Other composers represented are Paul Schoenfield, Carl Vine, Sofia Gubaidulina, Dan Welcher, Joseph Schwantner, Paul Ben-Haim, Glen B. Cortese and Anne Boyd. This cross section of composing styles makes this a very interesting recording to listen to, and Still’s performances on it are breathtaking. (Koch 7658)
Classical Reviews – instrumental, 19 Dec 2008
by Colin Clarke
VINE Flute Sonata. I. CLARKE Orange Dawn. SCHOENFELD Achat Sha’alti. Ufaratsta (Valentine). GUBAIDULINA Allegro rusticana. Klänge des Waldes. WELCHER All the words to all the songs. SCHWANTNER Soaring. Black Anemones. BEN-HAIM 3 Songs without Words. CORTESE I dream’d a dream. BOYD Goldfish through Summer Rain • Alexa Still (fl); Stephen Gosling (pn) • KOCH 7658 (71:32)
Alexa Still is a talented flutist whose faultless legato and unfailing musicality make for compelling listening. This is a disc that mixes the music of a lot of composers, and the constant is Still’s rock-solid determination to show each in the best possible light. Still’s sense of adventure, as documented in Paul Ingram’s interview ( Fanfare 28:3), is writ large here. Stephen Gosling is a fine accompanist.
The Australian composer Carl Vine deserves more attention than he currently enjoys. Philip Scott recommended a disc of Vine piano music in Fanfare 30:5. The Flute Sonata (1992) contains moments of shimmering beauty. It lasts 13:03 (not 13:63, as the back cover would have us believe). Gentle pointillism sits right next to proto-minimalist passages with no sense of conflict or incongruity. The slow movement is particularly beautiful, while the finale alternately buzzes with energy and relaxes into pools of lyricism.
Ian Clarke (of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London) lists composers as diverse as Stockhausen and Bobby McFerrin as influences. His Orange Dawn , a remarkably approachable, often beautiful piece, was inspired by a sunrise at the Great Rift Valley in East Africa. African sunrises are awe-inspiring. Clarke opts to paint the beauty of the scene in generally interior fashion. Paul Schoenfeld writes undemanding music, if the pieces on offer here are anything to go by. Achat Sha’ali is based on a verse of a Psalm of David and is gentle and unassuming; Ufaratsta is more energetic but still appealing, and takes its material from a Jewish folk song.
Recently, I was much taken by Diana Baker’s disc of Gubaidulina ( Fanfare 30:6). The two works here represent the more conservative side of the composer. The harmonies of Allegro rusticana do indeed have a slight whiff of the peasant about them (think light Bartók); Klänge des Waldes (“Sounds of the forest,” 1978) is highly evocative and very imaginative. The composed hesitancy of the passage around 1:50 is most effective.
Dan Welcher is a name new to me. His All the words to all the songs is a tribute both to pianist Vinson Hammond and to popular music. Easy on the ear, with an aura of sweet reminiscence, it seems to act as some sort of interlude after the first Gubaidulina piece. Schwantner’s Soaring is virtuoso in nature, both for the flute and for the piano, and very brief (1:35); the hauntingly evocative Black Anemones (1981) originated as a song, and it shows. Black Anemones only lasts 4:17, and not 14:17 as the back cover claims.
The Three Songs without Words by Paul Ben-Haim were originally for voice, but have appeared in a number of instrumental guises. The creeping exploratory nature of the first is particularly effective. The title of Glen Cortese’s I dream’d a dream quotes Whitman for this work written in the wake of 9/11. Its bittersweet language speaks of nostalgia for a world that can never be quite the same again. Finally, Anne Boyd’s Goldfish through Summer Rain . Boyd is an Australian composer who explores the cultures of South East Asia (particularly Japan and Indonesia) and who is also fascinated by “the intersection of Christian love with Buddhist silence.” There is an openness to her language that speaks of large spaces tinged with affectionate orientalisms. A lovely way to end the disc—and I would be very interested to hear more of Boyd’s music. Colin Clarke
||New Zealand Listener|
by Ian Dando
CARL VINE: SONATA FOR FLUTE, Alexa Still (flute), Stephen Gosling (piano) (Koch). Alexa Still is a smart repertoire picker. Sofia Gubaidulina is the only name composer to me here, with two refreshing early works. Otherwise, Still mines a wealth of flute/piano plums from nine largely unknown, late 20th-century overseas composers. She stamps her expressive playing instantly in the opening piece – Ian Clark’s unforgettable Orange Dawn, with its unusual simulated two-part flute texture in the middle. She breathes poignancy into Three Songs Without Words by Israel’s Paul Ben-Haim. Its long-spun Jewish melodies come straight from the heart. Sonata for Flute and Piano (1993) by Australia’s Carl Vine is a modern flute masterwork. A highly stimulating collection brilliantly played.
||Rock, jazz, classical and hip-hop discs that our critics are listening to
May 2, 2008
ALEXIS STILL: CARL VINE'S SONATA FOR FLUTE. This Australian-based flutist steps right out on the ledge with this recording of all contemporary music. Vine's sonata, which stands as the CD's centerpiece only in title, is a real find. The flute is given daring maneuvers in two movements of "Fast" and "Very Fast," yet has breezy melodic material and memorable motifs, though unconventional. Recognizable composers are Paul Schoenfield and former Eastman faculty member Joseph Schwantner. Schoenfield's pieces were arranged for virtuoso flutist Carol Wincenc from piano pieces, but Still's expressive playing lives up. Listeners will even get a kick out of a piece by Rochester-born composer Dan Welcher, who weaves in verses of Elvis into contemporary composition, changing keys halfway through phrases and other such fun techniques. Still, a native of New Zealand who teaches at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and has studied and performed throughout the United States, has a bright, energized and assured voice on the flute. Pianist Stephen Gosling, who is her accompanist, is a recognizable name in new music who gives unfamiliar music a lot of character.
||On track: Still at top of her game|
From New Zealand Herald, Arts and Literature,
By William Dart
June 05, 2008
Flautist Alexa Still may have returned to Sydney after her Chamber Music New Zealand tour with Roger Chase and Yolanda Kondonassis and her stint at the Taupo Festival, but she has left us with a splendid new CD in which she is partnered by Stephen Gosling.
Still needs little introduction and American-based pianist Gosling visited us in 2004 to premiere the John Psathas Concerto.
He was also a decidedly hip presence on Psathas' Rhythm Spike and Fragments albums.
Carl Vine's 1992 Sonata would be the major attraction for many on the new CD.
It is a sparkle - two outer movements bubble with minimalist glee while the Australian composer's central slow movement reveals Still's expert tonal control and Gosling's ability to explore the full colour range of his instrument.
Later on, Still acknowledges her new home with a luminous account of Goldfish through summer rain by Australian composer Anne Boyd.
Inevitably, the duo dallies on the lighter side for some of the selections, with mixed results. I found the Jewish-tinged lyricism of Paul Schoenfield's Achat Sha'alti a mite kitsch and Ian Clarke's Orange Dawn almost toppled into New Age atmospherics' evoking an East African sunrise.
Humour saves the day. Dan Welcher's All the Words to All the Songs dips into the songbooks of Elvis Presley and others as a tribute to the late Vincent Hammond, pianist and popular song buff. Even if you remain stony-faced at the King's I Can't Help Falling in Love with You slipping and sliding from key to key, you will be won over by Still's burnished tone.
Simplicity wins out in three Songs without Words by Paul Ben-Haim, one of Israel's great composers, while Joseph Schwanter's Soar is a 95-second blast of hi-energy virtuosity.
Best of all, Still and Gosling add two pieces to the growing discography of Tatar composer Sofia Gubaidulina.
While an early Allegro rusticana has the stamp of the sardonic Shostakovich all over it, Sounds of the Forest is more intriguing in its musical idiom. Trills and gruff piano murmurs suggest primeval mysteries in Gubaidulina's forest, a landscape in which one just might be able to imagine the reedy breathings of the accordion-like bayan.
* Alexa Still and Stephen Gosling (Koch CD 7658)
Carl Vine: Sonata for Flute
June 18th, 2008
The combination of Alexa Still on flute and Stephen Gosling on piano creates a veritable “Brangelina” of musical technique. Both performers are constantly praised for their technical prowess and amazing ability to make the most challenging works sound effortless and easy. Reviewers far and wide agree that Alexa Still doesn’t make anything sound tough. She gracefully sprints and hurdles through menacing challenges without seeming to break a sweat. On a similar note, I once heard Stephen Gosling begin a sentence with “When I played Eonta…” and I just kind of blanked out after that. It just wasn’t something I’d ever heard a pianist say before. Added to this technical superiority comes an equally superior sensitive musical side. This disc isn’t just flautistic fireworks.
There is a perception that flute music is light and twee stuff. Yes, there are plenty of twee flute works out there, recorded ad nauseam. My better 15/16ths plays flute and I have several of “those” recordings. This disc is a delicious collection of works that are less known but still connected in spirit to those countless Parisian salon discs that include yet one more recording of Poulenc’s sonata. The title work for the disc, Carl Vine’s Sonata for flute and piano, is a delightful and serious work that I want to hear more often. Luckily, I get to keep this disc.
The two selections by Gubaidulina are more conservative earlier pieces that show the underpinnings of her colorful and crafty later works. Of Schwantner’s two pieces, Black Anemones sounds more restrained than his better-known large ensemble works. Soaring is a treacherous journey despite its rather mellow title. To my ears, it sounds like a beginning and doesn’t really sound complete after its brief 1:35 runtime. Paul Schoenfield is the third composer with two works on the disc and it feels good to hear something other than his ubiquitous (yet enjoyable) Café Music. Achat Sha’alti and Ufaratsta show two sides of his Jewish music inspirations. Achat Sha’alti is beautiful, sometimes mournful, and rich while Ufaratsta bubbles along with joyous energy. Dan Welcher’s extended quote of “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You” in All the Words to All the Songs seems downright cheeseballish but it is instead intended as a elegy for an old friend.
There really isn’t anything, composition-wise or performance-wise, on this disc that I didn’t enjoy. The opening track of Orange Dawn by Ian Clarke sucked me in right away and I’ve been spinning the disc a lot ever since. Paul Ben-Haim’s Three Songs Without Words are wonderfully lyrical. I Dream’d in a Dream by Glen B. Cortese balances the dark and dramatic side with the hopeful in an effectively fluid form. The closing track, Anne Boyd’s Goldfish Through a Summer Rain is a picturesque closer played with much sensitivity. Good stuff abounds on this disc. If you like flute music or hate it, I’m betting that you will enjoy this CD.