Sunday 23 January 2022

Pure joy: ECHO Rising Star recorder player Lucie Horsch & lutenist Thomas Dunford in music old & new

Thomas Dunford & Lucie Horsch (image from Lucie Horsch's Instagram feed)
Thomas Dunford & Lucie Horsch (image from Lucie Horsch's Instagram feed)

ECHO Rising Stars
; Lucie Horsch, Thomas Dunford; LSO St Luke's

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 21 January 2022 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
Technical facility and great charm from recorder player Lucie Horsch and lutenist Thomas Dunford in a programme of old and new music performed with understated aplomb

Each year the European Concert Hall Organisation (ECHO) nominates a group of Rising Stars, and the selected young artists are offered the opportunity to present a programme of their own choosing, across venues across the ECHO network. One of this year's ECHO Rising Stars is Dutch recorder player Lucie Horsch. On Friday 21 January 2022, at LSO St Lukes (presented by the BarbicanLucie Horsch (recorders) and Thomas Dunford (lute) performed a programme that mixed Baroque music with contemporary works including pieces by Dario Castello, Igor Stravinsky, John Dowland, Francois Couperin, Bach, Lotta Wennäkoski, Francesca Caccini, Isang Yun, Anne Danican Philior and Marin Marais, as part of Horsch's ECHO Rising Stars tour.

We began in 17th century Venice with the Sonata seconda by Dario Castello (1602 - 1631), an instrumentalist and composer who worked with Monteverdi. A series of short movements, moving between fast and slow, with plenty of lively, florid writing and playing that was full of character and charm. Then some Stravinsky. Stravinsky on the recorder, why ever not? Horsch played her own arrangement of the third of Stravinsky's Three pieces for solo clarinet from 1919, busy and spiky with a strong sense of forward momentum. We then moved to Tudor England for John Dowland's Flow my tears, elegantly expressive with lovely phrasing from Horsch and a great sense of partnership between the two performers.

After an elegant 16th century lute solo, we heard Le Rossignol en amour by Francois Couperin, originally a keyboard piece but the composer admitted that it can be played on the flute. It proved to be a delightful piece, full of birdsong imitations.

JS Bach's Lute Suite in C minor was most probably written for the lautenwerk, a lute harpsichord, rather than an actual lute. The earliest manuscript (from 1738-1741) suggests this and a later version for actual lute may not be by Bach. We heard the work in Horsch's arrangement for recorder and lute, a slightly surprising but remarkably successful combination. The finely expressive Prelude introduced us to a sound-world where we might be hearing a Bach recorder sonata, then in the Fugue, the two instruments duetted finely. The perky Sarabande was followed by the final Gigue which featured some pretty impressive fast passagework from Horsch.

Horsch first played a piece by Finnish composer Lotta Wennäkoski some years ago and the two stayed in touch, and it was to Wennäkoski that Horsch turned for her commission for the ECHO Rising Stars tour. The result was Arteria (we were hearing the work's UK premiere) for solo recorders. The title refers both to art and to the arterial system, with the music having a constant sense of the pulse of blood and depicting a fevered person. Complex florid writing with a constant sense of energy and flow was complemented by an adventurous and playful approach to the recorders as Horsch not only gave us advanced techniques but played with her nose, alternated between two and three recorders, and at one point played three at once! The result was a terrific tour de force, with Horsch playing everything with great aplomb combined with charming humour.

Wanting to find more Early Music by women to include in the programme Horsch turned to a song by Francesca Caccini, Non ha'l ciel contanti lumi (published in 1614). And to our surprise, Horsch didn't play an instrumental transcription but sang the song, to Dunford's accompaniment, whilst playing the recorder during the ritornelli. A complete delight.

The Korean composer Isang Yng (1917-1995) studied initially in Japan; he was interned for his involvement in the Korean independence movement, later he studied in Paris and settled in West Germany in 1964. His Chinese Pictures for solo recorder date from 1993, and we heard the first movement, The Visitor to the Idyll, a thoughtful combination of the European avant garde and Korean tradition with the pitch-bending of the recorder evoking a Korean traditional instrument, creating a sense of haunting melancholy.

Anne Danican Philidor (1681-1728) was a member of a whole dynasty of French musicians. He (at the period the French used Anne as a male name) worked at the court of Louis XIV and founded the Concert Spirituel. His Sonata in D minor was an elegant five-movement work. The opening Lentement had a gentle tempo that allowed space for florid moments, then the Fugue was almost perky in contrast. The Courante had a real sense of the dance about it, whilst the fourth movement, Gracieusement was full of strong character. A second, final Fugue was busy and lively, full of dextrously fast passagework.

Marin Marais' Les voix humaines was written for viol in imitation of an organ stop, and here we heard Thomas Dunford's solo lute version, slow, expressive and utterly entrancing. This led directly to Horsch and Dunford's arrangement of Marais' Couplets de Folies, divisions on La follia, moving from a delightful dance to something positively dazzling.

This was an delightful evening. Both musicians played with a devastating combination of technical prowess, aplomb and great charm, and clearly have a fine partnership. The performances were often wonderfully understated, despite their technical facility they were never showy and always elegantly expressive.  This was emphasised by their wonderful pair of encore items; as announced by Thomas Dunford, it was two bird songs, a nightingale and then a blackbird. Horsch's lovely evocation of a nightingale on her recorder (accompanied by Dunford) led directly into what proved to be Lennon and McCartney's Blackbird (from the Beatles' 1968 double album, known as The White Album), which was sung by the two to Dunford's lute accompaniment. Pure joy.

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