CD review: ‘Flowing Waters’ by Luke Whitlock

Flowing Waters – Luke Whitlock
Suite Antique (piano solo)
Flowing Waters (piano solo)
Evening Prayer (piano solo)
The Faust and Mephisto Waltz (piano solo)
Three Pieces for Wind Trio
Flute Sonata

It’s always nice when someone contacts me to tell me about a new CD which they think I will like, and Luke Whitlock’s debut recording Flowing Waters is no exception. It was recommended to me by librettist Ben Kaye, and I have enjoyed exploring it over the course of several days.

This is the first album devoted to Luke Whitlock’s work (in addition to composing, he is also a producer for Radio 3 and 4) and it reveals a composer whose music is firmly rooted in melody, tonality, lyricism and expression. There are hints of folksong in the Suite Antique, as well as a very obvious hommage to the Baroque tradition of composing dance suites in the titles of the individual movements. It is also redolent of works by Debussy and Ravel which also looked back to Baroque antecedents, with quirky nods to Prokofiev and Shostakovich in the ‘Gigue’. The music is lyrical, elegant and witty, at times mininalist and at others more richly textured in the manner of Chopin or Liszt (‘Minuet’, a sensuous Chopinesque waltz), all sensitively executed by acclaimed pianist Duncan Honeybourne.

The title track ‘Flowing Waters’ was a commission from the Arts Council of Wales and the Welsh Government, and is a musical portrait of the River Teign in Devon. The piece opens with simple chords before moving into a flowing passage which owes much to Philip Glass in its spare textures and unexpected harmonic shifts, but also to Beethoven in the repeated LH quaver figure (the ‘Moonlight’ Sonata springs immediately to mind here) and also Liszt’s second ‘Petrarch Sonnet’ from the Années de Pelerinage. There are some Lisztian harmonies in the middle section of the work too, and the music plots a course through different tonal, melodic and harmonic landscapes, reflecting the winding and varied course of the river which inspired it. I was particularly taken with this track because it echoes a number of piano pieces (including several of Philip Glass’s ‘Etudes’) which I am currently working on.

The ‘Three Pieces for Wind’ trio are haunting and reflective pieces which depict certain landscapes and the listener’s interaction and response to them. There is a pleasing balance and sense of conversation and humour between the instruments (flute, clarinet and bassoon). The ‘Flute Sonata’, composed for flautist Anna Stokes (accompanied here by pianist Wai-Yin Lee), is the major work on the disc and reveals hints of Chopin and Poulenc in its melodies and scope. Meanwhile, ‘Evening Prayer’, which comes between the works for wind, is a tender meditation, redolent of some of Satie’s piano music.

The disc closes with ‘The Faust and Mephisto Waltz’, a tongue-in-cheek tribute to Liszt whose music is taken from a score for a silent film. It is jokey and enjoyable in its pastiche, while presenting some technical challenges for the pianist (Duncan Honeybourne), and does indeed have a very filmic quality.

The music contained on this album is very accessible and will certainly appeal to those listeners who may initially shy away from “new music”. Recommended.

Flowing Waters is available on the Divine Art label. Further information here

Composer Luke Whitlock will feature in a future ‘Meet the Artist’ interview