Clarissa Payne

Nikola Kapustin: Sonata OP. 125: Flute and Piano  

10:12, 23rd August 2019

The August issue of Music Teacher has a woodwind focus, so we are bringing you this review of Nikola Kapustin’s Sonata for Flute and Piano as a companion piece to the magazine.

Some important background

In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, classical composers have often turned to jazz for inspiration. For Ukrainian composer Nikolai Kapustin, jazz is a primary source for his classical compositions, which use structures – and sometime even harmonies – that Bach would recognise. Kapustin studied piano at the Moscow Conservatory and has spent his working life in Russia – somehow avoiding condemnation as a jazz pianist in the 1950s Soviet Union. He began composing in his twenties and has written many piano works – the piano accompanist playing his Flute Sonata op. 125 will get quite a workout. His music is appreciated and performed around the world, particularly in Japan where there is a Kapustin Society.

What it’s like to play

The sonata is definitely for advanced flute players only – it could make an interesting choice for Diploma candidates. At the opening of the first movement, the piano briskly introduces the motif, then makes room for the flute to enter. From then on the flautist has lines that flow across beats and bars, which build and break while the piano pushes rhythmically underneath – there’s rarely a few bars of rest for the pianist! It’s very much a duo piece with much dialogue between the instruments – there are echoes of baroque-style imitation and counterpoint.

The second movement begins with an a piacere section led by the flute with cool, shimmering piano chords underneath. There’s a lovely feeling of openness in this section (I wish it was longer!), which then gives way to a playful and light andantino grazioso, as well as lots of fast fingerwork passages. The movement ends on some high harmonics – while just about possible, the player may prefer to play the actual fingerings piano and achieve the effect with tone colour instead.

The third movement, a scherzo in 3/4, is marked Allegro assai and should played feeling one in a bar. The flautist must keep to the scherzo style and sit on the super-fast tempo without rushing or becoming overwhelmed. Once it starts, its relentless until the end of the movement – apart from the short ‘swinging’ sections. The fourth movement begins with another free section, then soon establishes an insistent mathematical groove, eventually leading to a playful and energetic climax.

To find out more about the piece visit en.schott-music.com

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