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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Concert Review: Duo Atlantica and Friends

An audience of close to ninety people gathered on Sunday afternoon November 16th, 2008, to hear Duo Atlantica perform in concert with their friends at the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Arlington, Massachusetts.

This concert marked the 15th anniversary of Duo Atlantica. Flutists Mies Boet-Whitaker and Willemien Insinger grew up in The Netherlands, but met after having moved to the Boston area. They started playing as a flute duo in 1993, performing flute music ranging from the Baroque period to newly-commissioned works of the 21st century. They play it all with dedication and zeal. The program featured a wide range of flute compositions in various combinations. The two flutists were joined by guests artists on the violoncello (Corinne Boet-Whitaker), English horn (Carl Schlaikjer), and piano (Victor Troll).

The concert opened with the Sonate in fis-Moll for two flutes (1944) by Harald Genzmer (1909-2007). Genzmer, a German composer who studied with Paul Hindemith in Berlin, was also an acquaintance of Richard Strauss. During the second world war he played as a clarinetist in a military band, and after the war taught at the Munich Hochschule für Musik (1957 to 1974). Genzmer’s music is mercurial and vaguely impressionistic. His musical language does not fall easily into any particular lineage, style, or school. The Sonata is in four movements (Allegro Moderato – Andante - Grazioso e giocoso – Tranquillo), and rather subdued given what must have been occurring around him in Germany at the close of the war.

Next on the program Mies Boet-Whitaker was joined by Corinne Boet-Whitaker on violoncello as they performed Dixième Concert (Les Goûts Réunis) by François Couperin (1668 – 1733). This work comes from a set of pieces that “join together tastes” of diverse instruments in the key of A minor. The three movements (Prelude, Air Tendre et Louré, and La Tromba) sounded rich and splendid in the flute-cello combination. Couperin, a keyboard virtuoso, came from a family of musicians, and in 1685 was appointed to his father’s former position as organist at the church of Saint Gervais in Paris. Regarded through the ages as a “composers’ composer” he was admired by the likes of J.S. Bach, Johannes Brahms, Richard Strauss, and Maurice Ravel. This listener too felt privileged and enriched by the fine performance and elegant music.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) didn’t compose any chamber music specifically for the flute, but the Trio, Op. 87, which was originally written for two oboes and English horn, works quite well in transcription. Despite the high opus number, it is an early work by Beethoven and reminds us of the wit of Mozart and Haydn. It was first published in 1806 and is in four movements, the first three of which were performed at this concert (Allegro, Adagio, Menuetto). Flutists Boet-Whitaker and Insinger were joined on the stage by Carl Schlaikjer, who plays the English horn with enormous control and skill. The ensemble playing was well-balanced and the trio of musicians clearly enjoyed making music together. It was delightful to the ear.

Indigo Blue for flute and piano (2004) by James Ricci (b. 1954) was the most contemporary work on the program. Ms. Insinger was joined by pianist Victor Troll for this moody and atmospheric piece. The short work begins with a sequence of block chords in the piano that outline a progression that could be a fusion of Schoenberg and the jazz pianist Bill Evans. The flute then enters with a freely-written line delivered as a recitative, which is accompanied by a series of sharp, accented chords in the piano which resonate in the air afterwards. Eventually, the two instruments come together and unite in a short Viennese-blues. Composer Ricci was in the audience, and looked very satisfied with the performance as he took his bow.

Another modern work by the American composer Robert Muczynski (b. 1929) followed. Muczynski, who is also a pianist, studied composition with Alexander Tcherepnin in the late 1940’s. His Duos for Flutes, Op. 34 (1974) are rather virtuosic and very well written for the instrument. Duo Atlantica played the Andante Molto with conviction and grace. The Allegro Risoluto really sailed by in a dazzling display of fast and frenetic lines.

A work by the renowned Italian-born composer, pianist, conductor, theorist, and music educator Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924) was the next work featured on the program. Busoni taught at the New England Conservatory in the 1890’s and stands as a major figure in twentieth century music. He had several important composition pupils, including Kurt Weill, Edgard Varèse and Stefan Wolpe. His manifesto from 1907, Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music, explored new areas such as electronic music and microtonal music. He was an important supporter of Schoenberg, and his Piano Concerto Op. 30 is regarded by some as the longest and most difficult concerto ever composed. His Duo for two flutes and piano, Op. 43 was written in 1880 before he moved to Boston. The piano part is conceived and realized as an equal participant, going well beyond the traditional role of accompaniment. Pianist Victor Troll excelled in the ensemble playing and together with Ms. Boet-Whitaker and Ms. Insinger, the three provided an expressive performance of this substantial but rarely heard late-Romantic work.

Busoni was also a famous transcriber of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750), so it was appropriate that Bach’s Trio Sonata BWV 1037 in C major was the concluding work on the program. Originally written for two violins and basso continuo, it sounds equally pleasing in modern transcription for two flutes and piano. The work is now attributed to Johann Gottlieb Goldberg - a German virtuoso harpsichordist, organist, and composer of the late Baroque and early Classical period whose claim to fame derived from giving the world premiere of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Hearing the Trio Sonata was the perfect finish to a musical afternoon. Here is a video sampling of the opening Adagio...

Duo Atlantica is a fine ensemble, and their playing is skillful and poised. They are very thoughtful about their program selection, which often includes a diversity of guest artists and musical styles. Mies Boet-Whitaker and Willemien Insinger play on matched Brannen Brothers flutes, which may contribute to their unified and even sound. The flutists take turns regarding who takes the upper line, but as individual contributors they convey an expressive personality and enthusiasm that shines through in every note.

A reception followed the performance, and many people lingered to meet the musicians and share in the post-concert excitement.

Duo Atlantica and Friends
November 16th, 2008
First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church
Arlington, Massachusetts

Mies Boet-Whitaker and Willemien Insinger, flutes
Corinne Boet-Whitaker, violoncello
Carl Schlaikjer, English horn
Victor Troll, piano