The vivid seascape of Ken Done’s expansive painting Big Mask Reef formed a colourful backdrop to this recital by Joshua Batty – who recently took up the Principal Flute position with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, with which he’ll make his concerto debut in May – and harpist Emily Granger. The concert at Sydney’s Ken Done Gallery was the latest in the Live at Yours series, a project offering intimate salon concerts, which was kicked off last year by conductor and pianist Vladimir Fanshil and soprano Eleanor Lyons in the wake of COVID-19 cancellations and has since included some 60 performances in small galleries, cafés and private homes.
Emily Granger, Vladimir Fanshil and Joshua Batty. Photo courtesy of Live at Yours
Curtain raising arpeggios from Granger’s harp drew the audience, wine glasses in hand, into the world of Irish composer Hamilton Harty’s In Ireland. Batty’s flute soared in, his sound lush in the high register, potent in the low, and agile in the ornaments that adorned the faster dance tunes, while Granger’s harp was pixie-like.
The pair followed Harty’s music with Bach and the BWV1020 flute sonata, which may not have been originally for flute, or even by Bach, in an arrangement for harp by Granger, who deftly handled the interweaving lines before Batty brought a robust sound with plenty of vibrato to the sonata. There were some exquisite quiet moments in the slow movement as Batty allowed his sound to bloom in the long phrases, and while a little more lightness in this movement could have made those moments even more effective, the momentum and intensity he brought to the finale brought the piece to a satisfying close.
In the spirit of 19th-century salon concerts, Fanshil was a genial host, leading a conversational Q&A session between pieces and expressing his disdain for the strictures of pre-planned programs over music-making born of the moment and mood. As such, the printed program was left behind and Lyons joined Granger in a glowing rendition of Puccini’s O mio babbino caro from Gianni Schicchi, her voice more than filling the intimate gallery space.
Batty returned for two movements from Piazzolla’s Histoire du Tango, the second movement, Cafe, 1930 – warm flute melodies over sparkling harp – and the boisterous Bordello, 1900, Granger knocking on the wood of the harp and Batty’s harp rhythmic, the powerful harp sound eliminating any of the balance challenges that can occur in the original flute and guitar version.
From this powerful performance, Granger gave us a more delicate side of the instrument in Laura Zaerr’s Right River Rumba – inspired by a kayaking trip on the North Umpqua River in Southern Oregon – which will appear on Granger’s upcoming solo album of new works by US and Australian composers. Here fragile, glistening textures rippled in the wake of louder gestures, in a rippling work of gentle yet implacable momentum.
The aquatic theme flowed neatly into the final work on the program, British composer William Alwyn’s 1971 Naiades for flute and harp, a virtuosic piece that opened with eerie harp and languid flute escalating into wild, slinky melodies and mysterious waltz figures. Granger and Batty ended a delightful evening of art, wine, conversation and music on a quieter note, with De Falla’s lullaby Nana.
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