Ilonka Kolthof, piccolo; Ralph van Raat, piano
TRPTK Records, 2020
The appearance of an emerging piccolo artist’s debut CD rouses the curiosity of a small, but growing population of flutists who also champion the orchestra’s smallest woodwind. Piccoloist Ilonka Kolthof, in finding that the solo repertoire for her instrument is certainly not that of the piano, violin, or even the flute, founded the Dutch Piccolo Project, her growing collection of music composed for piccolo as soloist. This disc, Halo, features six of these original works for piccolo and piano all written since 2014, and performed with the very fine pianist, Ralph van Raat.
Opening the CD is Piet-Jan van Rossum’s Anemoon tot work (Anemone to cloud); Haiku for Piccolo and Piano, a joyful, haiku-inspired work. Van Raat’s extended opening chords set a high standard of expectation for a sensitive and nuanced performance. With Kolthof’s first piccolo entry we are surprised, yet not disappointed. With fragmented phrases she weaves beautifully in and out, demonstrating a captivating low register of expression. As the music develops into shorter and shorter motifs, her articulation proves to be a crisp and exciting response to the percussive high notes of the piano. Her intonation is impeccable.
The Last Cocktail by Allan Segall is a three movement offering of homages to Gershwin, Nancarrow, and Messiaen. Fast, clean tonguing and high range control is required in the rapid, frenetic demands of Nancarrow and here Kolthof proves she is equal to the task. The chromatic scale passages at the end of this movement do not really fit, however, seeming more the material of practice-room warm-ups. The Messiaen homage, on the other hand, is full of lovely, evocative writing, and there is much sensitive duet performing at its finest.
The excellence of recording and engineering throughout the CD is truly highlighted in Halo by Bart Spaan, as the performers frame the silences with emotionally-timed spacing that is just right. The windy sounds from the piccolo, shaped around the magically-touched piano chords, are indeed mesmerizing; their pianissimo releases are simply breathtaking.
Jan Vriend’s four movement Sonata is an outstanding composition for the piccolo and piano combination and should serve future performers with a strong, formal staple in their repertoire, much as the Poulenc Sonata does for the flute. The first movement, with its angular melodies, clever unison motives and rhythmic drive is fully engaging at first listening and remains so with subsequent hearings.
The slow and reflective second movement presents opportunities for Kolthof’s excellent dynamic control to shine in the receding and nuanced phrase endings. The Scherzo, a technical and rhythmic work-out, surprises us with a brief Viennese waltz interlude and a satisfying ending. The Finale, opens moodily with a gypsy-like incantation that branches out into a faster tempo, sprinkled with Vriend’s signature unison passages in which the Kolthof /van Raat partnership is dazzling.
Rickshaw Zip by Ned McGowan is a travelogue of an angst-driven ride with episodes of pastoral serenity. Preceding the virtuoso-display ending there is a delightful competition of staccato high Cs between the piccolo and piano; the tone, pitch, and style matching is thrilling.
An extra, only available on the digital download, is Meccanica by Jan-Peter de Graaff, where Kolthof’s fluid flutter tongue is demonstrated once again as the piccolo soars melodically over the rhythmic low piano ostinati.
With this project, the next generation’s Ilonka Kolthof legitimately joins the small, excellent, and ardent troupe of fine piccolo performers (Lawrence Trott, Jean-Louis Beaumadier, Nicola Mazzanti, Natalie Schwaabe, Christie Beard, Matjaž Debeljak, Zart Eby, Lois Herbine, Mary Ann Archer, and Peter Verhoyen to mention some) who commission the repertoire that the instrument so badly needs. Now, the formidable task is to find the audience that will reach beyond the legacy of prejudice against a shrill, out-of-tune nuisance in a band, to advocate for the instrument as a conduit for the fine music-making we hear on this disc.
Review by Nancy Nourse:
Nancy Nourse is a Canadian educator, composer/arranger and flutist. She has published articles in the Journal of Aesthetic Education, Journal of Curriculum Studies, Canadian Music Educators Journal, Flutist Quarterly, Flute: Journal of the British Flute Society, WholeNote, Flute Focus and Flute Journal. In 1996 Nancy founded Nourse Wind Publications in order to make available quality editions of flute choir repertoire. Nancy’s special Interests include aesthetics, feminist issues, the flute in liturgy, early music, learning styles, and the history of the piccolo. Recently retired from the Claude Watson School for the Arts, Nancy is a chamber and church music performer, plays principal flute of the Ontario Pops Orchestra and The International Flute Orchestra and is artistic director and contrabass flutist in Flute Street, Toronto’s professional flute choir.
Ilonka Kolthof Performs:
1) Béla Bartók – Romanian Folk Dances IV. Celia García-García, piano (May 2020 in the Batavierhuis in Rotterdam (The Netherlands)
2) World premiere of Farewell Feathered Friends by JacobTV, May 28, 2020 at Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ in Amsterdam.
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