Held in York’s Unitarian Chapel, the Late Music series of concerts continues to divert and enrich. Two contrasting chamber recitals took place on 4 February 2023, each containing worthwhile examples of new and recent music.
The afternoon concert was given by The Lapins, a trio consisting of flautist Susie Hodder-Williams, saxophonist/bass clarinettist Chris Caldwell and guitarist James Boyd. The ensemble is named after one of their first commissions by David Lancaster, Monsieur Picasso Au Lapin Agile, which references an art house Parisienne café situated on the north side of Montmartre that was once frequented by artists such as Picasso and Modigliani and musicians such as Debussy and Satie. The players fashioned their whole event around this iconic venue, setting out café tables and chairs in the performing area and supplying programmes in the form of menus. There was an air of unforced informality about the music’s presentation too, with poetry readings, courtesy of guitarist James Boyd, interleaved with the musical items and each piece feeding seamlessly into the next.
Appropriately, the recital opened with the premiere of David Lancaster’s Monsieur Picasso Au Lapin Agile, scored for flute, bass clarinet and guitar. After a slow, gentle introduction positing ruminative, widely spaced woodwind phrases, variously repeated, the main section was quick and lively, driven by fleet, hocketing rhythms. After a climax was reached, the measured phrases from the opening section returned to bring the music to a close in an atmosphere of serene stillness. The Lapins presented a relaxed and flowing account of this finely wrought, satisfyingly well-balanced score.
David Power’s Circles, for flute, bass clarinet and guitar (2022) was a punchy, compact work. The guitar held sway in the opening section, initially laced with harmonics and then releasing a sequence of vigorously strummed chords. The other instruments joined presently, the bass clarinet in its deepest register, investing the material with melodic warmth and, in its final contributions, the guitar was also encouraged to display a simple, direct expressivity. This premiere performance was ideally poised between rhythmic incisiveness and lyrical fluency.
Gyps Fulvus: Ode to Le Garbet for alto flute, bass clarinet and guitar (2023) by Hayley Jenkins was inspired by the Eurasion Griffon Vulture of the title and witnessing the bird’s elegant descent over le Garbet valley during a birdwatching holiday in south-western France. Gently wafted into being by spontaneous sounding murmurations, the music unfolded spaciously, allowing each instrument’s expressive melodic lines time to register. Techniques such as harmonics, multiphonics and whistle tones were used effectively to create atmosphere in an evocative musical narrative conjuring up rising mountain mists and the vultures gracefully spiralling down. There was a veiled and latent aspect to the piece, as if the depicted scene was being remembered in tranquility rather than taking place directly before us. Sensitive to the score’s painterly qualities, the performers gave the notes space to evolve and resonate in this haunting first performance.
Receiving its UK premiere, Athena Corcoran-Tadd’s Confluence (Hope is a Boat), for flute, alto saxophone, bass clarinet, guitar and voices (2022) drew upon the composer’s personal experiences of being involved in the rescue of asylum seekers off the West African coast. Delicately scored, with a pithily direct spoken text intimating at the frailty and helplessness of the protagonists in the narrative, this deeply affecting short work tapped into a broad range of emotions in its gestures and effects, ending with a fervent hymn of hope. Called upon to explore an array of expressive techniques in the telling of their story, The Lapins ensured the music’s drama, eloquence and inherent compassion kept the audience absorbed throughout.
Also featured in a diverse and colourful programme were eloquent performances of Tippett’s The Blue Guitar, Villalobos: Bachianas Brasileiras No.5, Gwilym Simcock’s Suite for Solo Flute and Django Reinhardt’s Nuages. The overriding impression was one of having fortuitously chanced upon, and remained captivated by, a wonderfully sophisticated and relaxed cabaret.