AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Orlando Cela – Shadow Etchings [Ravello RR7982]

In the burst of musical creativity that characterized the postwar period, the flute was at the forefront. A new generation of instrumentalists helped redefine its voice and attracted the attention of avant-garde and experimental composers: in fact, the very first Sequenza Luciano Berio composed was for the flute virtuoso Severino Gazzeloni. Similarly, the second volume published in the celebrated mid-1970s New Instrumentation series of monographs was The Avant-Garde Flute. Shadow Etchings, a solo recording by Orlando Cela, is firmly within this tradition.

Cela, born in Venezuela but currently based in Boston, is a flutist conversant with the historical literature but specializing in contemporary performance practices. Thus it’s no surprise that the pieces on Shadow Etchings highlight the flute’s expansive range of sounds and techniques. Cela is a consummately musical player, though, and one who consistently turns technical challenges toward expressive ends.

The first piece, Jean-Patrick Besingrand’s Le soupir du Roseau dans les bras du vent, represents a witty bit of historical revisionism. Starting with the opening phrase of Debussy’s Syrinx for solo flute, the piece gradually dismantles Debussy’s melody through a set of variations based on timbral or technical effects. These include voiced notes, air notes, overblowing, flutter-tonguing and more. The formal structure of Debussy’s phrasing is somehow retained in a series of allusions, even as these allusions stray farther and farther from direct reference. Robert Gross’ Variations on a Schenker Graph of Gesualdo for flute and electronics, written for Cela, also recasts an earlier work, in this case a madrigal by Carlo Gesualdo as interpreted through Felix Salzer’s Schenker graph. Source material aside, the real substance of the work consists in the interaction of Cela’s performance with its electronic capture, manipulation, and playback. Greek-American composer Statis Minakakis’ Skagrafies II—the disc’s title track in the original Greek—was also written for Cela. This three-movement work for flute and piano resonance lays bare, often in an understated way, the complex interactions of dynamics, pitch and timbre as all three depend on, and take their particular shape from, the volume and force of breath. Lou Bunk’s Winter Variations, a duration-based, graphically-notated work for any pitched instrument, calls as well for an extended palette of sounds with a focus on microtones and multiphonics. Its realization here as a duet for flute and piccolo and piano (played by Sivan Etedgee) brings out the sometimes stark contrasts in color and temperament between wind and percussion.

Other works included in this fine collection are Dana Kaufman’s Hang Down Your Head, a set of variations on the folk song Tom Dooley, Edward Maxwell Dulaney’s A turning inwards, and Ziteng Ye’s program piece Self-Portrait.

Daniel Barbiero