The Italian Institute of Culture in New York presents Luisa Sello and Bruno Canino in Review

The Italian Institute of Culture in New York presents Luisa Sello and Bruno Canino in Review

Luisa Sello, flute
Bruno Canino, piano
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
April 18, 2016

Many ensembles who perform the Romantic repertoire–and this program was permeated with it, including a Neo-Romantic work–can often play with such emotion, that precision is overlooked. But this Italian duo plays with both flair and polish. Luisa Sello plays her flute elegantly, with a sonorous low range and a sweet high, without ever being abrasive (unless she’s playing the music of Augusta Read Thomas, but more of that later). She and her pianist, Bruno Canino, chose a varied program that contained some beautiful showpieces on the second half and two serious staples on the first half: the music of Bach and the Neo-Romantic Carl Reinecke. The Bach Sonata in B Minor, BWV 1030 was played with excellent attention to ornaments and the detailed counterpoint at hand. One general quibble: in listening to this performance and other works on the program, I often wished for more defined phrasing of the longer musical line and less emphatic pronouncements of individual notes. Following the Bach was Reinecke’s Undine Sonata, Op. 167, a wonderful work that will always be a favorite of the flute repertoire, despite sounding like Prokofiev at times. The duo’s virtuosity was ever-present and sparkling with energy; there was a lovely mix of extroverted passion and genuine tenderness.

Alfredo Casella’s Barcarola e Scherzo is a charmer–a real delight, and it was played beautifully and with an engaging intensity throughout. Augusta Read Thomas’ Karumi, performed in its world premiere of a new version for solo alto flute, is not a particularly enjoyable piece for an audience at first hearing. It is the type of thorny modernist fare that can grow on you over time, although it is easy to imagine that flutists will have fun playing it because it explores the instrument so fully. Edgy attacks and silences abound, producing staggered musical lines; to some, this produces an emotional disconnect, but to others, raw emotion. In any case, Ms. Sello managed all challenges of this work admirably. Ezio Monti’s Rugiada for alto flute and piano in its American premiere is a solid piece that deserves multiple performances, as it is also thoroughly engrossing and memorable. The sole unfortunate aspect of this Monti performance that I’m sure the performers would agree with is that the alto flute’s pitch was occasionally sharp to the piano.

Returning to the flute, Ms. Sello played a brilliant technical rendering of the Ponchielli Fantasy on the opera La Gioconda (elaborated for flute and piano by Luigi Hugues). There was excellent breath control and an abundance of charm in her scale and arpeggio runs. Dynamic shading within the phrases was limited in Mr. Canino’s piano part, which sounded too pedantic and deliberate at times; this could have been his approach to the comical wit of the piece, but I was hoping for a more directional approach to phrasing. The pair saved the best for last in a colorful, blazing account of Bizet’s Carmen Fantasy (elaborated for flute and piano by Francis Borne). The drama of the opera truly came across (not an easy task with just flute and piano), as the light and darkness of the score’s dynamics and harmonies–the chiaroscuro, if you will–made for a gripping performance.