On "Beauty Crying Forth," flutist Sarah Frisof and pianist Daniel Pesca present repertoire spanning one and half centuries for flute by female composers. Including music by Clara Schumann, Lili Boulanger, Kaija Saariaho, Tania León, Shulamit Ran, and Amy Williams, Frisof and Pesca, with guest cellist Hannah Collins, chart two parallel lineages: the evolution of flute repertoire from the Romantic era to the current day, and the overlooked role of female composers in shaping that repertoire.
Three Romances, op. 22Clara Schumann
|Sarah Frisof, flute, Daniel Pesca, piano|
|02||I. Andante Molto|
I. Andante Molto
|04||III. Leidenschaftlich schnell|
III. Leidenschaftlich schnell
First LinesAmy Williams
|Sarah Frisof, flute, Daniel Pesca, piano|
|05||Quarter = 76|
Quarter = 76
|06||Quarter = 60|
Quarter = 60
|07||Measure = 54|
Measure = 54
|08||Quarter = 50|
Quarter = 50
|09||Quarter = 80|
Quarter = 80
|10||Quarter = 88|
Quarter = 88
|11||Quarter = 64|
Quarter = 64
|12||Quarter = 108|
Quarter = 108
|13||Eighth = 48|
Eighth = 48
|14||Quarter = 54|
Quarter = 54
|15||Eighth = 72|
Eighth = 72
|17||D’un matin de printemps|
D’un matin de printemps
Birds of ParadiseShulamit Ran
|Sarah Frisof, flute, Daniel Pesca, piano|
|20||With mystery and awe, slow and flexible|
With mystery and awe, slow and flexible
|21||Brilliant, articulate, propulsive|
Brilliant, articulate, propulsive
The earliest pieces on the program are Three Romances, Op. 22, by Clara Schumann, originally composed for violin and piano. In her lifetime, Clara Schumann was best known as a pianist, and her talents as a composer were eclipsed by the renown of her husband, Robert. Composed in 1853, these exquisite pieces exemplify her distinctive musical voice, especially her gift for singing melody, and feature beautiful writing for both instruments.
Lili Boulanger’s life was tragically cut short by illness at age 24, but even by that age, she had become prolific and accomplished. Among other distinctions, she was the first woman to win the Prix de Rome, the highest honor in French music. She composed her Nocturne at age 18. While the melody is simple and graceful, the piece takes harmonic turns that reveal how she had mastered the idioms of Gabriel Fauré, her mentor and a leading figure in French Romanticism. D'un matin de Printemps is her final work, written shortly before her death. The two pieces reveal what a metamorphosis her style had undergone in just six short years: In D’un matin de Printemps, it is evident she has fully absorbed the impressionism of Debussy, and the piece dances through a whirlwind of rich modalities and varied textures.
Our record then skips forward about 80 years, to Kaija Saariaho’s alluring trio Cendres (1998). Influenced in her younger years by the Spectral movement in French music, Saariaho developed a musical language all her own, combining rigourous inquiry into instrumental timbre with a poetic language rich in symbolism and expressive depth. She has written extensively for flute and cello, including a double concerto, ...À la fumée, from 1990. In Cendres, she writes sumptuously for both instruments, with the piano creating a web of texture that binds together the sonorities of all three, resulting in unexpected, often mysterious colors.Read More
Amy Williams traces the inspiration for First Lines to reading poetry in the library of the Bellagio Center in Italy in 2006. As she read, she “was struck by the ability of a strong poem to instantly pull the reader in, to create a richly developed atmosphere in the very first line. I began to imagine how this same effect could be achieved with music. That set me on the course of writing a series of miniatures, each inspired by a different poem by women poets, all former residents of Bellagio.” Williams masterfully matches music to each line of text (printed later in this booklet). In vignettes, some as short as twenty seconds, she evokes entire worlds of sensation.
In 2007, Cuban-American composer Tania León wrote Alma for flutist Marya Martin. About this work, León writes: “In Spanish, ‘alma’ means soul or spirit; invisible forces, like the wind that caresses the chimes outside my window. The opening and closing of the piece evokes the sound of these chimes. The mood of the middle sections is propelled by the cascading of pitches that at times converge and diverge, a myriad of colors in playful conversation of bouncing gestures.” Alma is characterized by its lively, virtuosic writing for both instruments, which together navigate a kaleidoscopic array of moods.
Shulamit Ran has a preeminent position among composers of her generation, thanks to her impeccably crafted, vividly communicative music. These qualities are radiant in Birds of Paradise, a sonata-length work composed in 2014 which showcases both the lyrical and technical capabilities of the flute. Ran writes, “My work intersperses music that is brilliant and energetic with the wondrous and songful,” creating music in which “shifting motion and brilliant color take center-stage.” The three movements of Birds of Paradise flow toward its propulsive conclusion, in which a torrent of activity in the piano underlies a flute line that dives and pirouettes.
Sarah Frisof is currently the Associate Professor of Flute at the University of Maryland. She was a semi-finalist in the 2009 Kobe International Flute Competition, and the 2nd Prizewinner of the National Flute Association’s Young Artist Competition and the Heida Hermanns International Woodwind Competition. Sarah has attended the Verbier, Tanglewood, Pacific, and Aspen Music Festivals, and she has played with many major symphony orchestras. She serves as principal flute with the Dallas Wind Symphony, and each summer she plays at Music in the Mountains (Durango, CO) and the Sunflower Music Festival (Topeka, KS). Her interests in outreach and education have taken her to Zimbabwe and Brazil, where she ran music programs and participated in humanitarian work. Sarah previously served on the faculties of the University of Kansas and the University of Texas at Arlington, and is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music, the Juilliard School, and the University of Michigan.
Daniel Pesca, pianist and composer, has played the world premieres of over 100 works, many written for him. In the process, he has shared the stage with many renowned ensembles, and has appeared at the Library of Congress, the Kennedy Center, NYC’s Miller Theatre, Carnegie Hall, June in Buffalo, and international contemporary music festivals. Daniel has performed as concerto soloist with the Eastman Wind Ensemble, Oberlin Sinfonietta, Aspen New Music Ensemble, and Slee Sinfonietta. He is on recordings from Urtext Classics, Centaur, and Oberlin Records, with new solo recordings soon to appear on Nimbus and Albany. Daniel is Assistant Professor of Music at University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Previously, he was artist-in-residence at the University of Chicago. He is the pianist of the Grossman Ensemble (resident new music ensemble, UChicago) and the co-director of the Zohn Collective. Daniel holds a doctorate from Eastman.
This is actually a hard core act of female empowerment as the principals make it seem like this is a various artist compilation subsuming their own names well below the line. Focusing on flute/piano classical duets, all the composers are women and they are chosen from various periods and places. A recital kind of set with no egghead pretensions, this music is all good no matter who wrote it but it is nice to give a proper shout out to those who might have otherwise been unsung that deserve an ear. Well done.
— Chris Spector, 8.12.2020
American flautist Sarah Frisof presents here the music of women composers “through time.” This includes the female Romantic composer du jour, Clara Schumann; the modern female composer of the decade, Kaija Saariaho; one famous midpoint composer, Lili Boulanger; and three other contemporary women composers of whom the most famous is Shulamit Ran.
The first piece, Tania León’s Alma, is a fascinating and complex work using atonal top lines and lip buzzes on the flute against an essentially tonal piano accompaniment. The title, however, does not refer to Alma Mahler but, rather, the Spanish use of the word to mean “soul or spirit; invisible forces, like the wind that caresses the chimes outside my window.” These are some pretty edgy winds, however, which include double-time figures with an interesting progression. To my ears, Alma sounded like an uptempo “mood” piece; by the four-minute mark we are engaged in a fast passage with Latin rhythm before returning to the lip buzzes in the finale.
Clara Schumann’s 3 Romances are what they are, nice but unexceptional pieces for flute. Clara was a solid composer but not very original or very interesting. It’s in-one-ear-and-out-the-other music although Frisof plays these pieces exceptionally well, giving them an energy and zest I’ve never heard in Clara’s music before, and Daniel Pesca is an equally interesting accompanist.
Amy Williams’ First Lines, at first exposure, appears to be one of those modern-edgy pieces that are all the rage today, yet as the short movements follow one another one is struck by her ability to create interesting sonorities with just these two instruments, using both in a very percussive manner. This is especially true of the piano, which is often required to pluck the strings or bang inside the frame of the instrument. The music is not at all melodically appealing, nor does it try to be; it is, rather, a series of brief experiments in the combination of sonority and rhythm. In the sixth piece, quarter = 88, the flautist simply blows air through her instrument, producing no fixed tone. A bit gimmicky? Perhaps, but to my ears very effective.
After such a strange piece, the Debussy-like Nocturne of Lili Boulanger almost sounds old-fashioned but for the rootless chords and harmonic shifts. D’un matin de printemps sounds more modern still, with surprising juxtapositions of harmonies, and again the team of Frisof and Pesca is superb.
Kaija Saariaho is described in the notes as a composer influenced “by the Spectral movement in French music,” but to my ears only some of her pieces are effective as music. Much of her later output seems to be more concerned with startling her audiences than creating pieces with any real forward progression or development. This 1998 trio for flute, cello and piano takes something of a midway point; it is also meant to startle the listener, but actually has some nice development and goes somewhere. The cello doesn’t get nearly as much as the flute or piano, and its part is rather ungrateful for the instrument, calling on the player to use edgy, “ugly” bowing. It is, however, a pretty interesting piece and exceptionally well played by all three musicians. We end with Shulamit Ran’s Birds of Paradise, another edgy piece but even better developed than the Saariaho work despite the use of more percussive passages for the flute and extremely strange harmonies for the piano.
There is no question but that this is a truly exceptional album, and that is due to Sarah Frisof’s spectacular playing. I was startled to learn in the booklet that she was only a semifinalist at the 2009 Kobe International Flute Competition and placed second in the National Flute Association’s Young Artist Competition. This is a musician of exceptional skills and, better yet, musical sensibilities, a probable successor to the older and more established Tara Helen O’Connor. I wish her well in her career and most certainly would like to hear further releases by her!
— Lynn Bayley, 9.02.2020