Munro and Gunn deliver some of the finest flute playing of the season at Ganz Hall

Thu Feb 04, 2010 at 1:01 pm

By Bryant Manning

Tim Munro

Mathieu, who? Some of the most charged flute performances of the season transpired Wednesday night at Roosevelt University’s Ganz Hall, and they didn’t even feature the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s renowned—and lately, newsworthy—principal flutist Mathieu Dufour.

Jennifer Gunn

Instead, the wonderfully pungent mind of flute phenom Tim Munro devised an alluring program called “Trembling Air,” for which he and superb CSO flutist and piccoloist Jennifer Gunn could pair up and deliver. For a concert that lasted about an hour, featured two world premieres and drew a very respectable crowd, it was a bracing reminder that the heart of new flute music—with apologies to Huey Lewis—is still beating. It didn’t hurt either to have two familiar local faces center stage.

Munro is, of course, the elegantly outspoken anchor of the Grammy-winning eighth blackbird, and he wasted no time by jumping in to Benjamin Broening’s twitchy solo work, Trembling Air. Munro can sell anything he plays on dramatic verve alone, and for this world premiere, a piece rife with gauzy atmospherics, he sold it.

Like the rest of the evening, Munro avoided standard concert format by segueing into several works without pause. This was effective particularly when Gunn first appeared without notice for Ross Edwards’ episodic Ecstatic Dances.  This frolicking, painterly music is loaded with filmic touches and logical lyricism, and the duo flutes provided radiant readings with a swirlingly big-bodied tone.

This rip-roaring advocacy carried over to less engaging works, like Phillip Glass’s 1969 Music in Fifths, where an assault of recurring eighth notes builds to a maddening loop.  The Estonian composer Helena Tulve offered more timbral variety with her Soaring, which employs a judicious use of flute, bass flute and piccolo. Between its heavy breathing and flutter-tonguing, the music felt like a formless body in constant upward movement.

One of the unspoken benefits of attending concerts at Roosevelt is the opportunity to take in the local talent. For the university’s first flute composition competition, graduate student Tai-Kuang Chao contributed his winning Isolated Dance on a Bench, a virtuoso’s delight that harnesses the full expressive range of the instrument. With Munro in top solo form, it’s difficult to imagine Chao getting more persuasive treatment anytime soon.

Fellow Aussie Brett Dean’s rancid Demons raised everyone’s hackles, including Munro’s. “I play this while picturing someone I hate the most,” the flutist joked beforehand. It was a nice counterpoint then to hear CSO advisor Gerard McBurney’s more placid Grey Light, Early Morning for alto flute, which favored a poetic uncertainty over other means of expression.

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