Never judge a book by its cover – especially if it is a couple of bookends.
WA composer Lachlan Skipworth’s world premiere Sonata (2020) started and finished a scintillating recital of Australian flute music by WA Symphony principal flautist Andrew Nicholson with WASO pianist and UWA lecturer Adam Pinto.
But the Sonata was first played unannounced, concealed in the program behind Ross Edwards’ Nura.
That in itself was a challenging, programmatic piece setting out some of Skipworth’s inspiration in non-standard scales which the one-time student of Japanese shakuhachi flute presented as a master class.
Then it was over to Nicholson and Pinto, Nura opening in dark chords for Wild Bird Morning, summoning an explosion of avian flourishes in flute.
Nicholson stands out in a distinguished WASO wind section but here was in lockstep with Pinto, neither artist leader nor led.
Step-like scales in piano, echoed in flute, each with a leger-de-main cadence, introduced Ocean Idyll.
Then a slow, contemplative mood seemed to channel the shakuhachi in timbre before a percussive switch to the finale, Earth Dance, triggered frantic, virtuosic flute and broken rhythm on the keyboard.
Musical gymnastics gave way to gentle melody and back, until hyperbole seemed to break down in the comic conclusion.
Anne Boyd’s Cloudy Mountain followed, another work reflecting Japanese mode and tone, piano opening in a near glissando followed by dark contrasts as flute explored the mists and mystery of a distant landscape.
Tone modulated as piano resonated to the rivulets of a mountain stream, unfamiliar intervals in flute stretching the ear and imagination, fading to mystery in the cadence.
After the interval, Roger Smalley’s Movement proved more than a formal title, with simple figures rendered minimally yet curiously expressive, a dynamic relationship rather than conventional harmony and melody.
The duo also explored techniques in pizzicato, percussion, fluttering and more; and though riven through with a disruptive spirit, maintained a musical ambience.
Then it was time for the blink-and-you miss-it world premiere (reprise).
Skipworth explained it as an evolution, perhaps of expectation, in the return from COVID-19 shutdown.
Nicholson was more direct: “It’s a massive responsibility but also very exciting to get something really brand-new.”
Piano and flute erupted into life, chasing through scales and intervals, teeming like a dawn chorus, busy yet tuneful.
Mood then switched to meditative, piano tolling chords while the flute wandered through its register, piano lilting under languorous flute melody, breaking back to a fugue-like figure, fluent and joyful.
Sound pealed out with warmth and energy, morphing to a meditative, searching mode; the whole more accessible now for shining through its own prism.
At the last reverting to the introductory fugue, Nicholson and Pinto stamped a brand-new phenomenon with the hallmark of success — acceptance.
Cappuccino Concerts continues this Sunday, October 18, 5pm, at the Grove Library, Cottesloe, with soprano Jessica Taylor and organist Alessandro Pittorino.
The series concludes next Sunday, October 25, 5pm, with Cygnus Arioso string ensemble at the same venue.