Review: Flute and Guitar Duo, Agnew & McAllister

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Review: Flute and Guitar Duo, Agnew & McAllister

Post by Lance » Sun Feb 04, 2007 11:18 am

Delightful Flute and Guitar Recital


The flute and guitar duo, Aisling Agnew and Matthew McAllister, provide a varied and exciting disc of old favorites and new music to entertain listeners. These young musicians met while students at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and have been recitaling together since 2001 to enthusiastic reception from charmed critics and dazzled audiences alike.

Among the familiar music on their latest disc, matter-of-factly named simply Recital [NRS CD 004], is the Bach Sonata for Flute, BWV 1034 in Bach's own arrangement for lute accompaniment; Francois Borne's Carmen Fantasie arranged by the artists for flute and guitar; Poulenc's Mouvements Perpetuels arranged for flute and guitar; and Ravel's Pavane pour une infante defunte arranged for flute and guitar. The new music, some of which is arranged by the artists, is Heath's Gentle Dreams; Caffrey's puckishly entitled Pluck, Blow; and Fennessy's continuity error (sic).

The Bach sonata has always been an especial favorite. However, this arrangement was new to me. There is something calming and patient and reassuring about this piece even in the most frequently heard arrangement for flute, cello, and harpsichord or piano, especially the arresting Andante. Turn the accompaniment into a guitar or lute and you have a composition from which the potential for precious fussiness has been banished and replaced with secure warmth and subtlety.

Bizet's schizophrenic opera, with its sexy, seductive, and erotically playful heroine come to a decidedly unplayful end, is difficult enough to capture in full productions without sacrificing either the playful or the tragic. And often arrangements of opera for instruments can sound rather like a school exam exercise, technically impressive but lacking in the essential heart of the original. Not so with this marvelous adaptation by Agnew and McAllister. The guitar work, substituting for a more ambitious orchestra, carries the burden of shading the bright, optimistic, and virtuosic flute with all the dark foreboding of the drama. McAllister accomplishes this brilliantly with great understatement, never intruding, yet always pointing to the tragedy.

The Poulenc is rendered more subdued and introspective than I am accustomed to hearing, but the pieces are enhanced by such a contemplative approach, demonstrating these artists' innate dramatic sensibilities that heighten the power of the music. And the playing is no less difficult for being so exposed.

The only selection on the disc that failed to fully satisfy is Ravel's Pavane pour une infante defunte. This familiar piece, originally written for piano, is most widely known in Ravel's later arrangement for small chamber ensemble, including the weightier winds that give the piece its core of introverted and dignified stateliness. While Agnew and McAllister acquit themselves well in the performance, the instrumentation is too light and too bright and too thin to serve the essential quality of the Pavane.

As in their recitals, this young duo is committed to showcasing new music on this disc. Dave Heath (b. 1956) has composed works for James Galway, Nigel Kennedy, Piers Lane, Julian Lloyd-Weber, Clio Gould, and Evelyn Glennie. His Gentle Dreams is a reflective lullaby written in honor of his new-born nephew. Originally written for the cello, it takes on a brighter, pastoral character in this arrangement for flute and guitar. McAllister and Agnew debuted Irish composer Greg Caffrey's (b. 1963) Pluck, Blow in 2005. The instruments play off each other very effectively and wittily, realizing the composer's intent to create the kind of unity and improvisational sense one gets from jazz or rock. In David Fennessy's (b. 1976) continuity error, Agnew's flute leaps and darts like a humming bird among the mockingly grave guitar passages until it disappears several seconds before the guitar suddenly realizes it is alone on stage and breaks off.

All in all, a fine outing from a pair of musicians with long bright futures ahead of them.

To learn more about these fine young musicians, or to buy their recordings, please click on the links below.

Aisling Agnew's
Matthew McAllister's
Flute and Guitar Duo
See also: ... oductId=17
Lance G. Hill

When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]



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