Premiered on 3 February 2017 by Katherine Bryan and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Arild Remmereit, Martin Suckling’s flute concerto The White Road (after Edmund de Waal) received a rapturous reception.
A work of great subtlety and delicacy, it is also a fine showcase for Bryan, who gave the premiere from memory. Melody is the guiding force from the opening bars of the work, which place solo song-fragments and string harmonics in an antiphonal relationship. The soloist leads us through a number of beguiling landscapes, often inventively coloured with metallic percussion before an extended song, marked ‘almost a lullaby’, floats atop wind and strings. This eventually leads to a short virtuoso conclusion, gruff brass chords launching the flute into the stratosphere.
Commissioned by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the 15-minute concerto takes its title from The White Road, De Waal’s 2015 memoir-cum-travelogue-cum-history of porcelain. Suckling had previously responded to de Waal’s work in his Psalm for harp and three spatialised ensembles, composed for Aurora Orchestra in 2015.
‘A sonic feast, seething with microtones and ear-baffling orchestral sonorities but held together by a firm but eloquent structure that set Bryan in a succession of ritualistic conversations with the orchestra. There was a definite Japanese tinge to her shakuhachi-like note-bending and the sudden cracks and thuds from percussion… A thrillingly dramatic performance even seeming to spit her instrument out in passages of sudden violence.’
The Scotsman (David Kettle), 6 February 2017