Japanese-born, Australian-based flautist Masahide Kurita is indeed a universal traveller, and a musician whose studies have taken him from Tokyo National University to the Royal Academy of Music in London and to lessons and masterclasses with Sir James Galway. With internationally acclaimed pianist Kenji Fujimura, Kurita selected a program that included “music from around the world by little-known composers who were inspired by folk-songs, landscapes and national music traditions from Sweden, Taiwan-Japan, Turkey, Hungary and Italy”.
Composed by Taiwanese born Japanese composer Wen-Ye Jiang (1910-1983), Sonata Festosa, Op. 17 was a perfect opening, “festosa” describing a warm welcome, a joyful atmosphere, and also was a manifestation of the influences of Asian court music and Taiko percussion instruments. With an opening of repeated energetic rhythms and lively accented repeated melodies, Kurita’s flute sound was impressive, captivating and quite awe-inspiring. His solo melodic themes were pure gold, strongly expressive and comforting before accelerating with crisp piano accompaniment into more jaunty, animated and energetic textures. A slow second movement showed us nothing less than perfection, with peaceful contours, oriental mystique and impeccable high tones exuding a richness and fullness of sound. Intermittent percussive punctuations from the piano added orchestral oriental timbres to the soundscape. A jaunty, brightly shining third movement closed the work with an energetic and virtuosic instrumental partnership.
There was nothing raw or “folkie” about the trio of Turkish Folk Songs presented next. Sehnaz Longa, Katabim (Uskudar’a Gider Iken – a strong and popular song recorded by singer Eartha Kitt) and Nihavent Longa flowed beautifully, preserved in fine classical expression with beautiful melodic flow, and sophisticated variations of dynamics and sensual timbres. We travelled in style, feeling the timelessness of long-preserved traditional folk songs made classy and modern with new flavours of syncopation and detailed decoration. Kurita has an extraordinarily big sound and broad tone in the flute’s low notes, producing a very mellow, velvety sound in Uskudar’a particularly. In traditional dance style, variations frequently gained dizzying activity as they accelerated to a close. Our joy and excitement was then calmed with Pastoral Suite for Flute and Piano, Op. 13A, by Swedish composer and pianist Gunnar de Frumerie (1908 – 1987). Now in a moderate, gently moving symbiosis of neo-classical design with romantic elements, we were taken to France where the composer had studied piano with Alfred Cortot. Following a short prelude we moved slowly through a kind of dreamy gavotte that drifted from major to minor tonal centres in a classical structure but with a modern lilt. The simplicity of contrasting elegant triple meters led into a barcarolle-like movement, full of dreams and beauty. The final highlight was a scurrying presto, as both musicians relished joyful, pristine and sparkling articulations.
The Swiss Shepherd was written by Italian born Pietro Morlacchi when he was a young student, and like many rhapsodic and virtuosic works based on Theme and Variations, is hugely popular in concert programs around the world. Kurita would have been inspired by his mentor James Galway, showing a similar performance style in body language and tone when immersed in this technically adventurous and extravagant music. We felt the ambience and warmth of a gypsy style waltz, and a lyrical operetta melodic style from Milan’s musical scene, while admiring the challenging technique and breath control of those who dare to play this enjoyable and entertaining piece.
Bela Bartok’s Suite Paysanne Hongroise for Flute and Piano closed the Flute Traveller programme in brilliant fashion. Innovative timbral colours and syncopated Balkan rhythms were executed in a masterclass of teamwork, passion and flair as highly sophisticated orchestral colours were delivered. Many contrasting details ranged from lightness and brightness to powerful atonalities and unresolved rising folk melodies. Most remarkable was that Kurita’s flute rarely took a rest through the concert, and the audience did indeed want more.
Kurita and Fujimura chose a perfect sentimental and soul-stirring encore – the contemporary Celtic flavoured folk melody Ashokan Farewell. Written just in 1982, then featured in documentary films Huey Long, and The Civil War, this powerful and haunting melody has travelled extensively world-wide, is played universally at folk music sessions, and been recorded by performers such as James Galway and Pinchas Zukerman. This so nicely rounded off a sensitive, detailed and rewarding recital by two world-class musicians as, following the words to Ashokan Farewell, the sun also set in Melbourne.
Photo credit Julie McErlain
Julie McErlain reviewed “Flute Traveller” performed by Masahide Kurita (flute) and Kenji Fujimura (piano) at the Melbourne Recital Centre, Primrose Potter Salon on November 29, 2022.