Chatterton/McCright Duo - French Connections (Proper Canary)
About seven years ago, flutist Linda Chatterton first heard pianist Matthew McCright perform at a new-music concert in Minnesota, and she thought, Wow, he sounds fabulous! "So I introduced myself after the show and we started collaborating and one thing led to another," Linda recalls.
Matthew says the two had an instant rapport. "And over the years, we've developed a lot of the same musical tastes and our kind of input in music has been the same - gestures, phrasing," he says. "It's almost unspoken at this point now, which is very helpful in putting together a program."
The program on their debut recording, French Connections, began to jell around Prokofiev's Sonata No. 2 in D major for Violin and Piano, Op. 94. Matthew explains "it's essentially THE sonata for flute and piano. It pretty much eclipses almost any other, certainly 20th century, piece for this combination. And it's got such a unique French connection because Prokofiev spent so much time in Paris with the Ballets Russe after he'd left the Soviet Union."
"I first heard it in high school, and went to Milwaukee to hear James Galway play it," Linda recalls, "And I didn't know anything about it. And the fourth movement was just so incredible, and of course he played it fabulously and I was like, 'Oh I really want to learn this piece.' And so every time I come back to it, leave it for a couple of years and then relearn it and perform it, I kind of think of that first experience I had with Galway. And it really is just like visiting an old friend again. I really love it."
"I think it's quintessentially Prokofiev," Matthew says of the sonata. "It captures the post-romantic kind of spirit of the Russian melody. It has humorous or satirical elements that Prokofiev includes in many of his piano works for sure. And also a lot of kind of folk fairy tale element that you might find in Peter and the Wolf or Romeo and Juliet or in the other larger symphonic works."
"And from there," Matthew continues, "we decided that we also liked the idea of transcribing, which is not new for the flutists because they don't have a large amount of repertoire to play. So Linda turned to the Saint-Saëns after she'd heard it and thought it might work."
Matthew is describing the Violin Sonata No. 1 in D minor, Op. 75, by Camille Saint-Saëns, who gave it the nickname, "The Hippogriff-Sonata," because to be able to play it, you need to be a freak of nature. "It's a stamina and technical beast," Linda explains. "It's really virtuosic and I thought, ok, there's not too many double stops this could actually work on the flute. And I'd not heard of any flutist attempting to transcribe it. So I thought it would be cool for me to do it. So I started working on it and threw it over to Matt and realized this is really, really, really hard. And unlike the violin, we have an added challenge as flutists because we have to figure out where to breathe in this whole mass of notes so it was quite a project."
Matthew agrees it is a huge adrenaline rush when all the technical fireworks start synchronizing. "We're playing in unison, in octaves, exactly the same pitches, flying over the keyboard, and her flying all over the stratosphere and lining it up rhythmically, plus being sure we're in tune together, and that kind of stuff is quite challenging and so I can understand where the composer found his subtitle, if you will, for the piece," Matthew says. "There were many days when I thought I do need a mythological third hand to play this accurately."
Surfing on the internet, Linda and Matthew found the perfect piece to round out this program of French Connections. It's a sonata by Japanese composer Yuko Uebayashi, who's lived in Paris since 1998. "She writes really beautiful music and really beautiful melodies," Linda says. "It's rare to find a composer who's writing now who takes the risk of writing a 10-minute long movement and kind of explores different melodies and changing character and harmonies in a very kind of, not really neo classical …, but she really prizes melody, which is very rare, I think."
"And, we didn't know this at the time, but after we were kind of working on these pieces we realized it was an excellent companion piece to the Prokofiev because it matches the four movement scheme and the character of the four movements almost identically," Matthew adds. "I'm not sure of that but it's striking, the connection that those two pieces made. So it made it an ideal third piece for the recording."
Linda Chatterton and Matthew McCright negotiate some pretty challenging works as they make French Connections on their debut recording.