Review: Claude Bolling’s Two Suites for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio

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Liesl Stoltz performed recently at NederburgIf you suffer from the Sunday afternoon blues, the Nederburg Concert Series may be just what the doctor ordered. Good music, good food and excellent wine together with the warm hospitality of the Nederburg staff are certain to make you forget all your pre-Monday morning misgivings.

The annual Nederburg Concert Series has become a highlight on the Cape Winelands arts calendar. With its aim to inspire music enthusiasts amidst classic Cape Dutch architecture, guests are welcomed in the Nederburg Manor House for a top classical music event on the last Sunday of every month. The concert series runs from May to November and with its growing popularity and celebrated success, it came as no surprise to see so many patrons fill the Manor House and magnificent Nederburg gardens for the inaugural concert of the 2012 series.

The programme and ensemble for the first concert was certainly unconventional: an unusual ensemble, in terms of both jazz and chamber music standards, playing the works of a composer that we hear all too rarely on the South African concert stage.  Award-winning flautist Liesl Stoltz together with a jazz piano trio consisting of Albie van Schalkwyk (piano), Frank Mallows (percussion) and Brydon Bolton (double bass) was set to dazzle the audience in the quaint music salon of the manor house with works by French composer and jazz musician Claude Bolling (born April 1930).

First on the programme was the monumental and baroque inspired Suite No. 1 for Flute and Jazz Piano, a composition that secured Bolling the nickname of ‘the French Gershwin’ and that premiered at Carnegie Hall in 1975 to much acclaim. Interestingly, this work juxtaposes the key and formal structures of baroque music with the freer modulations, rhythm and tonality of several varieties of jazz styles. To me, the artists did not exploit this contradiction between old baroque and contemporary jazz to the fullest. This work is a case of neither real jazz nor real baroque and the fascinating, and sometimes clashing possibilities, of the collective sound should have received more attention. The piano, for example, lacked assertiveness and character at times while the bass flute used in the second last movement Versatile required more stamina for a clearer and dreamier jazz tone.

After the interval the audience had the pleasure of delving even deeper into the mesmerising repertoire of Bolling’s music. Bolling’s lengthier sequel to the first suite, the Suite No. 2 for Flute and Jazz Piano, is generally not as memorable as its original inspiration and lacks fresh ideas (the third movement Entr’amis, for example, simply reworking an old idea of Suite No. 1). Some reviewers have subsequently dubbed this suite as ‘one suite too many for the Bolling classical/jazz juggernaut’.

However, the privilege of exploring the compositions of Bolling in the intimate and exclusive surroundings of the Nederburg Manor House is truly an exceptional experience. The artists must be lauded for sharing with us Bolling’s music and performing this difficult crossover of different styles. Throughout the evening guests were treated to award-winning Nederburg wines and a delectable array of canapés and soup. New friendships were forged in front of the fireplace and on the stoep and no doubt many of us will meet again for the next concert on 24 June.

Andra le Roux-Kemp

Claude Bolling’s Two Suites for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio were performed as part of the Nederburg Concert Series, at Nederburg Wine Estate, Paarl on 27 May 2012.

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