A Pale View of the Hills

Flautist Linda Holland is an artist of the pleasant surprise. In this concert, as in the Current Sounds concerts, the appearance of a contemporary composition on the program presents no occasion for resistance. After the shock of the first few bars wears off, we realize we actually like what we are hearing, and we can sit back and enjoy the piece and still feel virtuous for having sat through something indisputably “modern.”

The concert began with Bach, Pergolesi, and Brahms, and it ended with Ravel, but on either side of the intermission we had two distinctly contemporary works: William G. Harbinson’s Sonata for Flute and Piano from 2003, and Holland’s own Toot Suite for two flutes and piano from the same year.

Dr. William G. Harbinson is dean of the Mariam Cannon Hayes School of Music at Appalachian State University in North Carolina. His Sonata, performed by Holland and pianist Anne Weger, is a thoroughly American work, a la Roy Harris and George Antheil, with its first and third movements giddy and brilliant, all a-flutter with good will, and its central movement a soaring, wind-swept rhapsody. All of it sparkles and shines.

Holland’s work has a whimsical title, but the whimsy is confined to the second movement mambo, which kept whispering “Hernando’s Hideaway” in my ear. The first movement Pavane seemed to partake equally of a baroque worldview and a romantic yearning after the impossible. Holland and Weger were joined by flautist Caitlin Boruch and they all three kept me spellbound from start to finish. The opening work was Bach’s Sonata in B Minor performed by Holland, with Josephine Brummel providing harpsichord continuo. It was very nicely done.

Then the exquisite soprano Agatha Carubia sang Pergolesi’s heart-rending Salve Regina over the thoughtful, attentive piano of Seungah Seo.

Josephine Brummel took us up to the Harbinson with two pieces by Brahms, a lyrical Intermezzo and a swaggering Ballade. Brahms makes a thrilling poet but an unconvincing bravo—his strut is a little too precisely executed.

To close, Weger and Brummel played a four-handed version of Ravel’s Mother Goose. The performance was enthralling, the piece thought-provoking. Ravel invents a good deal of Poulenc with this piece (Satie invented the rest), and since I find the composer a fascinating enigma, I very much enjoyed the structural revelations of the arrangement.

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