What kind of music can you make with nothing but two flutes? In "La Ricerca" ("The Search"), Washington flutist-composer Jan Pompilo makes a vivid, concise tone poem.
"La Ricerca," which Pompilo performed with fellow-flutist Penelope Fischer yesterday at the Phillips Collection, uses "extended" flute techniques, which include key-clicking, hissing, long glissandos, singing into the flute and "bending" the notes the way a blues guitarist does. It tells, hilariously and poignantly, the story of a tempestuous affair in which two people quarrel, make up, talk at cross-purposes, scream at each other, blend in purring trills, come together in an ecstatic, sustained unison and finally go their separate ways. It is a technical tour de force, but it is also a curiously touching little work of art. The same composer's "Wedding Piece," which she played without accompaniment, is less spectacular but still charming -- a delicate, witty piece that quotes the "Lohengrin" wedding march at its climax.
Ably accompanied by pianist Francis Conlon, Pompilo did not hesitate to program her music with that of Bach, Debussy, Roussel, Vare se and Poulenc, and it stood up well to the comparison. It may not be great music, but it is graceful, well made and communicative.
As a performer, Pompilo sounded most at home in modern repertoire. The opening movement of Bach's Sonata in B minor would have profited from a more sustained legato line, but Debussy's "Syrinx" and Roussel's "Joueurs de flu te" were both stylishly played. The high point of the program was Vare se's "Density 21.5." She made it sound not like a wild, incoherent piece of modernism but the serene, thoughtful, carefully organized classic it is, and she played with brilliant technique. Poulenc's graceful, bright sonata for flute and piano brought the program to a satisfying close.