Woodwind – listening notes

Jean Francaix – Suite for Flute Seule

This is quite a playful piece; several of the movements contain lots of very fast jumps between high and low notes as well as rapid scale passages and ornaments.  This style seems to work really well on the flute and sounds effortless.  The melodic climaxes occur at the top end of the flute’s register, where it sounds very clear and piercing.  Some of the movements don’t have a strong sense of tonality and it’s not easy to predict where the melody is going to go next, especially in the allemande for example.

Igor Stravinsky – Three Pieces for Clarinet

These pieces show off the range of the clarinet quite well.  The first movement is centred very much in the lower end of its register; I think I would describe the melody as ‘wandering’, there are some strange sounding intervals and no clear key – it has a serious, unsettling mood.  This movement is also very slow, which I think goes hand in hand with the low pitch as you can hear that notes take longer to sound in that register.  The third movement is faster, higher in pitch and with a lot more rhythmic interest.  The melody is fairly continuous which makes me feel quite exhausted just listening to it – you have to wonder where the player gets a chance to breathe!

Willson Osborne – Rhapsody for Solo Bassoon

This piece produced quite a depressive effect on me.  As in the Stravinsky there is a distinct lack of tonality and some uneasy intervals, but in this piece I also got a sense of desperation.  I think this was produced by the melody moving around quite quickly in places, and then sometimes resting on a long note in a kind of a lament.  Not pleasant to listen to but very well suited to the dark, low timbre of the bassoon.

Benjamin Britten – Six Metamorphoses after Ovid (for oboe)

The reedy sound of the oboe is quite distinctive in these pieces.  They necessitate a variety of techniques, from long slow melodies to very articulated passages with short staccato notes, almost like a bark.  These latter seem much better suited to the oboe than to the flute or clarinet.  I quite like the second movement which has a catchy rhythm and a melody which sounds like it is almost tripping over itself (going over the same notes with different emphasis each time).

Paul Creston – Sonata Op 19 for Alto Saxophone

The first movement is quite fast paced with plenty of syncopation, and even in the parts of the melody which rest on longer notes there is often a crescendo through the note which keeps the sense of movement.  I like the beginning section which uses a series of ascending melodic passages to modulate it into a new key at the same time as taking us to the higher register of the saxophone.  Rather than being a climax however, there is a gradual ritardando as well as a diminuendo which changes the sound colour of the saxophone quite effectively.

Mervyn Burtch – Phantasy (recorder and string quartet)

The recorder has a piercing sound and its combination with string quartet sounds very unusual to me.  There is quite a bit of imitation between the strings and the recorder, both in longer phrases and shorter ‘conversations’ between the instruments.  The opening melody of the recorder sounds rather medieval (I think this is because it uses a natural minor scale), but it quickly turns more chromatic.  Some of it sounds intentionally out of tune which isn’t an effect I particularly like, though I can see it conveys a sense of urgency.


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