IN: Reviews

Wooden Flute Wafts

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Charismatic flutist Sergio Pallottelli, on the Longy faculty since 2017, charmed his audience there Saturday with “From Earth to Fire,” featuring Daniel Schnyder’s Four Elements for Flute and Piano (Earth/Gaia, Kyklos/Aquae, Aulos/ Recitativo del vento, and Il Fuoco/Feuertanz). Schnyder provided for an ample, succulent and soundful center between Schubert’s well-known A Minor D. 821 Arpeggione sonata and Franck’s iconic Sonata in A Major. The compact concert, in which the excellent pianist Eri Nakamura joined Pallottelli, rewarded us for venturing out in the soaking evening rain.

The melodies in Schubert’s sonata leave one singing after a good rendition, the case here. As readers will know, the work was written for piano and the 6-stringed arpeggione, which seems to many like a conflation of guitar and cello—midway between them in size, played with a bow, tuned like a guitar and with a fretted fingerboard. Since published posthumously in 1871, it has been transcribed for cello, violin, viola, double bass, euphonium, clarinet and, yes, for flute (with harp and guitar sometimes taking the piano’s place). Here, Pallottelli paired with Nakamura, were intimate, lyrical and spirited. Nakamura, with her hybrid soloist-collaborator capabilities created the soul of this piece. Pallottelli, with his wooden flute imparted a natural sound compared to a gold flute rendition — essentially a bird-like feeling, helping make this traversal distinctive. The first Allegro, with its spirited phrasing and energy evoked a bird on a branch. The Adagio (in E minor) expresses regret, and the final A major Allegretto brought back hope.  

In Four Elements, Daniel Schnyder (born 1961) creates emotionally distinct moods, with flute and piano partnering equally. Earth/Gaia grounded us  with light touches of jazz, and cabaret abounded, from the first notes of Nakamura’s piano, to the modulating middle and soft ending; Kyklos/Aquae evoked gentle dripping in a fountain, or perhaps drainpipe with sections conjuring a flood — both appropriate for the torrential rain of the evening. These two movements engendered spirited conversation. In Aulos/Recitativo del vento, the dou delivered a zephyr to fine effect. And the final Il Fuoco/ Feuertanz excited with the “tanz” portion of the work taking precedence. Schnyder’s work deserves more exposure.

Sergio Pallottelli (Christian M. Kempin photo)

The Franck is a big sonata, so hearing it on the flute requires attitude adjustment. Nakamura’s ability to execute at will a light touch or masterful fortissimo anchored the work, and Pallottelli’s musicality carried it forward and ornamented. The rolling phrases of the Allegretto ben marcato are less loud with a wooden flute, facilitating subtle appreciation of the melody. The turbulent second movement was a challenge here, even so well executed, just in terms of balance. The third somewhat improvisatory Ben moderato: Recitative-Fantasia movement wafted thoughtfully. And the final Allegretto poco mosso with its canonic exchange between Pallottelli and Nakamura led to a standing ovation.

Pallottelli’s wooden grenadilla flute, by Sankyo Flutes of Japan with a head joint of quebracho by Argentinian Julio Hernandez, imparted a warm timbre to each composition. It was perfect in the Schnyder, and lent a unique, sound for the rest. In post-concert conversation, Pallottelli, commented:

I have wanted to play wood exclusively (for years), from the moment I heard it– I fell in love immediately with the softer-around-the-edges timber wood offers, how the overtones ring…Wood is alive, and of course reacts to travel, climate in different halls and parts of the world. Wood allows me to have a real relationship with my instrument, my voice. Playing a wooden flute, you have to understand its moods and it will understand yours as well. I finally made the switch to wood in 2014, selling all my metal, and have never been happier… I feel I blend better with all other instruments, I can really get into the sound of a cello, a viola and even really dig into the timbre of the piano in many more ways.

I wish there had been an encore, a thought echoed by others as we headed back into the wet evening. So, I’ll just have to hear Pallottelli and Nakamura again as soon as I can.

Julie Ingelfinger is a classically-trained pianist and music lover. She enjoys day jobs as professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, pediatric nephrologist at MassGeneral Hospital for Children and deputy editor at the New England Journal of Medicine.

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  1. I’m not familiar with the pianist, but I have been to almost all of Sergio’s concerts here in Houston where he lives and have never been disappointed – he’s just amazing and the flute is his passion!

    Comment by Cindy Wilson — January 30, 2020 at 11:30 am

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