Tuesday, 23 July 2013

The Trio Shaham Erez Wallfisch bring a special magic to the music of Ravel, Debussy and Fauré on a new release from Nimbus

Nimbus Records www.wyastone.co.uk/all-labels/nimbus/nimbus-alliance.html has just released a recording of Piano Trios by Ravel and Fauré together with the Violin Sonata and Cello Sonata by Debussy, dating between 1914 and 1924, performed by the Trio Shaham Erez Wallfisch.

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In different ways these were difficult or unsettling times for each of these composers. Ravel was writing his Trio just before the outbreak of the First World War. Writing from St-Jean-de Luz to Mme Kahn-Casella, wife of the Italian composer, Alfredo Casella he said, ‘I am working on the trio in spite of the cold, the tempest, the storm, the rain and the hail.’ By the end of June he was working in a heat of 35 degrees. Although this was a happy time for Ravel, the outbreak of war on 3rd August 1914 came as a great shock to him. It was Alfredo Casella who was the pianist in the first performance of the Piano Trio, in Paris, on 28th January 1915. By March 1915, Ravel had enlisted in the 13th Artillery Regiment.

By the time Debussy www.debussy.fr  wrote his Cello Sonata, his health was failing. He had been operated on to remove a cyst from his bowel in early 1913, war had broken out in 1914 and his mother died in March 1915. In summer 1915, Debussy rented a house in Pourville, on the Normandy coast, with his second wife Emma Bardac. That summer brought forth a prolific period of composition with En blanc et noir for two pianos, the Sonatas for Cello and Piano (1915) and for Flute, Viola and Harp (1915) and the Douze études pour piano. The sonatas were intended to be part of a set of six with the third a Violin Sonata (1916/17), the fourth for oboe, horn and harpsichord, the fifth for trumpet, clarinet, bassoon and piano and a six that would combine ‘the sonorities I’ve employed in the others. Only the first three were to be completed, Debussy dying in 1918 of the bowel condition he had been operated on for in 1913.

By 1922 old age and money worries had begun to take their toll on Fauré. Despite being made Grand Croix de la Légion d’Honneur in 1923, his flagging energy, increasing frailty and hearing difficulties began to weigh on him. In July 1922, Faure spent a month near the Luz and Cauterets valleys. He asked for some sketches he had left in Paris to be sent on. These were to become the central section of the slow movement. However, the composer caught bronchial pneumonia thus delaying any work on the Piano Trio. He continued to work on the Trio while staying with friends at Annecy and completed the trio in Paris during the winter of 1922/23. Originally written for clarinet, cello and piano it was published for violin, cello and piano, a form in which it is almost always performed. It was pneumonia that caused Fauré’s death in 1924.

Trio Shaham Erez Wallfisch was founded in 2009 and comprises of three of the finest instrumentalists of our time. Hagai Shaham www.hagaishaham.com studied with Professor Ilona Feher, Elisha Kagan, Emanuel Borok, Arnold Steinhardt and the Guarneri Quartet. In September 1990, Hagai Shaham and his duo partner, Arnon Erez, won the first prize at the ARD International Music Competition in Munich in the Violin-Piano duo category. As a soloist he has performed with many of the world's major orchestras and is a professor at the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music at Tel Aviv University.

Born in 1965, Arnon Erez is one of Israel’s leading pianists, primarily known as an outstanding chamber musician. He collaborates with a wide number of musicians and performs with top artists worldwide. His international career began in 1990, after winning, together with his duo partner Hagai Shaham, the ARD International Music Competition in Munich. Arnon Erez studied the piano with Mrs Hana Shalgi, Professor Michael Boguslavski and Professor Arie Vardi.  He has won several competitions, including first prize in the François Shapira competition, Israel’s most prestigious national competition and has performed in numerous major concert halls and currently teaches at The Buchmann-Mehta School of Music at the Tel Aviv University.

Raphael Wallfisch www.raphaelwallfisch.com was born in London into a family of distinguished musicians, his mother the cellist Anita Lasker-Wallfisch and his father the pianist Peter Wallfisch. Raphael Wallfisch was guided by a succession of fine teachers including Amaryllis Fleming, Amadeo Baldovino, Derek Simpson and Gregor Piatigorsky. At the age of twenty-four he won the Gaspar Cassadó International Cello Competition in Florence. Since then he has enjoyed a world-wide career playing with the world’s greatest orchestras. He is professor of cello at the Zürich Winterthur Konservatorium, Switzerland and at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.

The first movement Modéré of Ravel’s Piano Trio has a beautifully wistful opening that rises to a passionate climax. There are some lovely delicate, sensitive passages. These players are right inside Ravel’s idiom, drawing so much of his exquisite nostalgia from the music. In the faster sections there is some scintillating playing. The spiky opening to the second movement Pantoum: Assez vif yields to a rolling melody in what is effectively the scherzo, with some fine playing and spot on ensemble. As the music returns to the opening motif there is some lovely string playing. The Passacaille: Très large highlights the individual merits of these fine artists, in this beautifully paced movement, where they slowly build the drama and emotion in an arch like form. The rhythmically changing Finale: Animé receives a terrific performance, full of drama and power with terrific playing in the striking coda.

There is simply lovely playing from Wallfisch and Erez in Debussy’s ambivalent Cello Sonata, by turns confident and melancholy, with so many lovely details in the strange music of the Prologue: Lent. Piano with pizzicato cello open Sérénade: Modérément animé before this music speeds, then slows with more pizzicato phrases and staccato piano in this oddly eerie music. The Finale: Animé at first seems to want to rush ahead, but becomes hesitant. However it soon picks up with some great playing from these two performers. As the mood alternates between slow and thoughtful and rapid, even frantic, Wallfisch and Erez’s playing is spot on.

Debussy’s Violin Sonata of 1917 opens with a more settled feel in the Allegro vivo, but this doesn’t last, becoming more unsettled with sudden forward movement, before pulling back. Shahan and Erez prove an equally fine duo, feeling each other’s every turn and nuance. The skittish Intermède: Fantasque et léger receives a terrific performance with these artists, clearly enjoying themselves, in playing of such clarity and wit. In the Finale: Très animé  Erez displays some beautifully rippling, fluid playing in the tentative opening, before the music picks up in a lively, somewhat virtuosic finale showing Shaham’s brilliant violinistic skills. There are quiet sections where these two draw so much from the music.

Shaham, Wallfsich and Erez immediately bring out the ambivalent feel of the Allegro, ma non troppo Fauré’s late masterpiece the Piano Trio, Op.120. Despite the marking of this movement, there are moments of poignancy that these players point up so well, swaying from one mood to another. There is a gentle, resigned Andantino that develops into a lovely duet for violin and cello with lovely playing from Shaham and Wallfisch. There are superbly built climaxes leading to a gentle coda. In the final Allegro vivo, the violin and cello give the opening outbursts with the piano scurrying around them to disperse any melancholy or gloom in this lively, joyful allegro, so unlike the opening allegro.

These fine players bring a special magic to this music. They are beautifully recorded with the balance of these artists finely done.  A lot of fine chamber music recordings come my way but I was really taken by this one which shouldn’t be missed.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Terrific performances of Bach’s sonatas for flute and harpsichord from Verena Fischer and Léon Berben on a new release from Oehms Classics

Whilst we may frown upon such practices now, it was quite normal for composers of the Baroque era to re-use their own material to rework a new piece. Indeed it was not unusual or unacceptable to ‘borrow’ ideas from other composers.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) certainly wasn’t against such a practice, even arranging Antonio Vivaldi’s (1678 -1741) Concerto in B minor for four violins, strings and basso continuo, RV 580 as his Concerto in A minor for four harpsichords, strings and basso continuo (BWV 1065).

Bach also arranged some of his own earlier works as harpsichord concertos and arranged concertos by such composers as Benedetto Giacomo Marcello (1686-1739), Giuseppe Torelli (1658-1709), Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767), Johann Ernst of Saxe-Weimar (1696-1715) and Vivaldi into works for Clavier (BWV 972-987).

A new release from Oehms Classics www.oehmsclassics.de entitled The Authentic Flute Sonatas includes all the solo flute sonatas known to be written by Bach, thereby excluding two flute sonatas, in E flat BWV 1031 and in C BWV 1033 that are regarded as unlikely to have been written by Bach.
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The Flute sonatas in B minor, BWV 1030, in A major, BWV 1032, in E minor, BWV 1034 and in E major, BWV 1035 that are performed here are authentic Bach though it is not known for certain when these works were written or, indeed, if they were originally written for flute, given Bach’s reuse of earlier material.

The flute sonatas BWV 1030 and 1032 were probably written between 1717 and 1723 when Bach was still at Cothen. The flute sonata, BWV 1034 was probably written between 1717 and 1724 and the flute sonata, BWV 1035 around 1741.

Performed here by Verena Fischer www.austriabarockakademie.at/instructors/verena-fischer, who plays a transverse flute by Martin Wenner, 2010, after an original by Carlo Palanca, 1760, Turin and Léon Berben www.leonberben.org , who plays a harpsichord by Keith Hill, 2001, after an instrument by Christian Zell, 1728, Hamburg.

Both are distinguished artists, having played with Musica Antiqua Cologne under Reinhard Goebel, Fischer as solo flautist, and both having an extensive recorded catalogue.

Bach’s Sonata for flute & basso continuo in E minor, BWV 1034 opens with a stately adagio ma non tanto. What a lovely tone Verena Fischer’s flute has, a rich woody, distinctive sound. In the sparkling allegro, Fischer’s flute tone rises to a remarkably brighter sound with brilliant articulation and a terrific contribution from Léon Berben.  Fischer’s playing of the Andante has made me fall in love with this piece all over again; such is her lovely flowing performance.  A terrific final allegro, where Fischer and Berben chase each other, brings this sonata to an end. This is great playing, so full of life and fun.

The Sonata for flute and harpsichord in A major, BWV 1032 opens with a Vivace, the harpsichord having a greater role than basso continuo. As Verena Fischer enters in this joyful piece, the balance between players is ideal with a fine dialogue between players. There is a lovely, leisurely, flowing Largo e dolce with some lovely long held notes from Fischer providing some gorgeous timbres, as well as some of Bach’s little clipped phrases adding interest. A lovely touch. The brilliant Allegro is full of Bach’s overflowing invention, with the notes all but falling over each other in their enthusiasm and ebullience with great playing from Fischer and Berben.

There are some lovely characterful sounds from Fischer’s flute in the lovely little Adagio ma non tanto that opens Bach’s Sonata for flute & basso continuo in E major, BWV 1035. The following, wonderfully agile allegro, is full of momentum with nicely pointed continuo from Berben.  The appealing Siciliana, with such lovely delicate phrases from Fischer has some lovely colouring of phrases. Despite his basso continuo role, Berben gets more prominence in the finale Allegro assai. Both provide some really lively playing, beautifully done, again as though responding off each other.

The last of the authentic sonatas on this disc is the Sonata for flute & harpsichord in B minor, BWV 1030. A fairly fast flowing Andante opens this sonata, the longest movement of any of these works; it reveals again Bach’s mastery of invention wonderfully played by both artists. In the Largo e dolce Fischer certainly brings out the dolce of this movement, a fairly fast largo, with both players weaving a lovely musical thread.  Fischer and Berben give a truly virtuoso performance of the Presto, lively, hurtling along in a terrific finale, with Fischer still finding time to provide some lovely rounded sounds.

As a substantial extra, Verena Fischer gives us a superb performance of Bach’s Partita for solo flute in A minor, BWV 1013, probably written around 1720. Fischer is superb in the Allemande, showing great agility, lovely tone and superb timbres in this, one of Bach’s loveliest pieces. If anything, the Corrente is even more challenging with its rapid phrases superbly done by Fischer, whose period flute brings more lovely textures to the following Sarabande. Finally there is a wonderful, lively little Bourée Anglaise played with such agility and finesse, to conclude this disc.

Verena Fischer’s flute provides a lovely sound, rich and mellow, but never losing brilliance when needed. Both these artists give terrific performances of these lovely pieces and are given a fine recording with a nice acoustic around the players.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Proms 2013. A David Matthews premiere, Rachmaninov from Nobuyuki Tsujii and Nielsen’s Inextinguishable with Juanjo Mena and the BBC Philharmonic

Tonight’s Prom (16th July 2013) with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra www.bbc.co.uk/orchestras/philharmonic  conducted by their Chief Conductor, Juanjo Mena http://juanjomena.com/en featured the world premiere of David Matthews's A Vision of the Sea, www.david-matthews.co.uk a BBC commission inspired by Shelley's poetry, the pull of the tide on the Kentish coast at Deal and an evocation of the sound of sunrise, as recorded by scientists from Sheffield University.

There was a luminous opening with the sound of sea birds and a feeling of expectancy with Matthew’s interesting and evocative chords in the orchestra with piano and percussion adding colour. Slowly the orchestra rose in the strings, pointed up by brass before a passage for solo violin and woodwind. The orchestra continued to rise to a brief climax before playfully dancing strings and woodwind entered. A beautifully quiet passage was shared between flute, oboe and brass, giving way to a flowing string passage.

A rising motif signalled a stormier section with basses heaving around before the music rose up in the orchestra, with timpani and brass heralding a dynamic section. Swirling strings entered, rising in waves of sound to a climax with the sound of the rainstick suggesting the shingles in the tide. The music fell back quietly to a hushed orchestra with twittering woodwind and percussion holding the music in suspense, before a cornet sounded against the background of a hushed orchestra. There were low growls from the orchestra against quietly shimmering strings before the music slowly rose with brass and timpani to a final surge.

This fine new work from David Matthews conjures up the feel of the sea, whilst using an orchestral palette that is fresh and unusual.

Nobuyuki Tsujii then joined the orchestra for his Proms debut, to perform Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor, Op.18. Blind since birth, Nobuyuki Tsujii http://www.nobupiano1988.com was joint Gold Medal winner at the 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. He has formed a close relationship with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, touring twice with them to Japan.  

Tsujii took the Moderato at a fairly leisurely pace with some lovely rubato and great clarity of sound. He had a delicacy in certain passages that was very appealing. Juanjo Mena and the BBC Philharmonic gave fine accompaniment, very dynamic at times. Attention was never drawn to the most fearsome of passages, Tsujii wearing his technique lightly.

In the adagio sostenuto, Tsujii and the orchestra never let pace drag, allowing the music and its emotion speak for itself. The apparent simplicity that Tsujii brought to the central section was quite affecting. It was difficult not to hear his phenomenal technique in the latter stages of this movement.

In the Allegro Scherzando finale, there was playing of breadth and freedom with Mena and the BBC Philharmonic showing restraint, allowing the more dynamic moments to become all the more telling. The coda, nevertheless, was scintillating. This was a memorable performance by a pianist of maturity and fine musicianship.

As an encore, Tsujii gave the audience Liszt’s La Campanella, in a performance that was both dazzling and entertaining.

After the interval, Juanjo Mena opened Nielsen's Fourth Symphony, The Inextinguishable, with a terrific life-affirming burst of energy. There were some lovely contributions from individual members of the orchestras as he let the Allegro unfold. In the Poco Allegretto, Mena brought out the individuality of this music, revealing many new facets that made one hear it afresh.

The strings of the BBC Philharmonic burst searingly into the Poco Adagio quasi Andante, taut and full of angst with Mena extracting much tension from the music. There was a lovely quiet central section, beautifully controlled, leading to a fine coda.

In the Con Anima – Allegro, Mena finally let the orchestra have its head, in a really affirmative and stunningly brilliant final movement. He effectively caught the echoes of past reflections that drifted by in the slower section. The BBC Philharmonic’s timpanist provided a tempestuous lead into the glorious coda.

CPO brings us excellent performances of Wilhelm Georg Berger’s Viola Concerto and Fourth Symphony from violist Nils Mönkemeyer and Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin conducted by Horia Andreescu

Wilhelm Georg Berger (1929-1993) was born in Rupea, a town in Braşov County in Transylvania, Romania. He studied the violin and viola under Cecilia Nitulescu-Lupu, Anton Adrian Sarvaş, and Alexandru Rădulescu and went on to be a violinist with the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra http://fge.org.ro as well as a member of the Romanian Composer Association string quartet.

As a composer, Berger was very prolific writing twenty one symphonies, concertos, oratorios, eighteen string quartets, sonatas, and organ works. His violin sonata of 1964 won the Prince Rainier III Composition Award in Monaco and his Sixth String Quartet the First Prize in Liège in 1965. One of his violin concertos earned him the First Prize in Brussels in 1966. Berger also wrote a series of books about the artistic qualities of sonatas, another series about string quartets, a guidebook for concertos and books about classical composition theory.

Berger rejected the idea of avant-garde taking the view that everything is part of a huge development that started at the beginning of musical history. Berger’s music combines moderate modernism, Romanian avant-garde, sonata form and Transylvanian Protestant hymns. He stated that his musical influences were Reger, Hindemith and Schoenberg.

CPO http://naxosdirect.co.uk/labels/cpo-records have just released new recordings of Berger’s Viola Concerto, Op.12 and his Symphony No.4, Op.30 with Nils Mönkemeyer (violawww.nilsmoenkemeyer.com  and the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin www.rsb-online.de  conducted by Horia Andreescu www.kdmueller.eu/en/artists/conductors/51-horia-andreescu-v

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The Allegro moderato of Berger’s Viola Concerto, Op.12 (1959) opens with a flowing theme for viola against pizzicato strings. As the music progresses the full orchestra enters and the viola theme becomes more passionate. Berger gives Reger, Hindemith and Schoenberg as his musical influences which might suggest to some a somewhat academic style of composition; however, this music is full of romantic fervour with even a hint of Szymanowski in its golden glow. There are glimpses of a twelve tone style but well upholstered in a romantic guise. Mönkemeyer’s tone is exemplary, moving from rich and glowing to astringent as the music requires. This is a glorious, flowing, ever developing movement which after a cadenza ends with a quiet coda.

The orchestra opens the darker more subdued larghetto to which the violins join to lift the atmosphere a little, weaving some lovely passages with Mönkemeyer drawing some lovely sonorities. The Finale. Tema con variazioni  is a faster flowing series of variations, with just a hint of Bartok, that bring a multitude of moods with some lovely effects for the viola beautifully done by Mönkemeyer before leading to the dynamic close.

Berger’s two movement Symphony No.4, Op.30 (1964) is subtitled Tragic Symphony. Mysterious night sounds hover in the opening of the Allegro, meditative e serioso. The music rises to an outburst. A plaintive cor anglais is heard against a hushed orchestra with the cymbals then bass drum sounding quietly to which a fluttering flute joins. The music soon develops to a faster dynamic section, before moving to a quieter flowing passage with woodwind. There is a section where brass have a say before rising to another climax. The music alternates in mood between quieter and meditative, and louder and more agitated. There are some lovely little details in the orchestra with Horia Andreescu and the Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester, Berlin on fine form. Eventually the music reaches a climax, where the orchestra broadens on a horn passage as the music descends to woodwind and percussion before rising up again, then falling to a lovely quiet extended string melody. An oboe passage leads to a livelier section as the music quietly makes its way to the brilliant coda.

A slow, quiet opening for strings introduces the Largo, fervido e serioso, a calmo ma fluente before a plaintive flute is heard against the strings, which become more animated as woodwind join. The music calms before rising up in a passionate string section with percussion before dropping back. Eventually the orchestra suddenly takes off with an outburst at the start of a livelier section. Soon the volume lessens but not tempo before the music builds again, really thrusting along. Halfway through, the music drops to a quieter, slower pace with woodwind playing against a string background. Strings open a new section with woodwind interventions before they begin to rise, then fall back. The strings then broaden in a slow passage before brass enters over pizzicato strings. This leads the music forward, with individual woodwind instruments entering to take the lead, before brass and pizzicato strings return, followed by flute and strings that slowly lead to the quiet coda.

A symphony consisting of two movements marked Allegro and Largo may suggest a lack of variety but this is far from the case with each movement containing a variety of moods in each movement.

These excellently played works are very worthwhile hearing. The recording is excellent and there are detailed booklet notes.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

A glorious disc of 20th century works for flute and piano from Anne-Catherine Heinzmann and Thomas Hoppe on Audite

Audite www.audite.de  have just released a recording by Anne-Catherine Heinzmann (flute) and Thomas Hoppe (piano) of works for flute and piano by twentieth century composers. This is a timely release given that it includes the Sonatine pour Flüte et Piano by Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013) who sadly died in May this year,
www.schott-music.com/shop/persons/featured/5345  and the Sonate by Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) www.poulenc.fr  who died 50 years ago. These works are coupled with the Sonata by Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) www.hindemith.info, the Sonata for Flute and Piano, Op. 14 by Robert Muczynski (1929-2010) www.pytheasmusic.org/muczynski.html and the Ballade pour Flûte et Piano by Frank Martin (1890-1974) www.frankmartin.org

Anne-Catherine Heinzmann www.annecatherineheinzmann.de, one of the most renowned German flautists of her generation, studied with Professor Jean-Claude Gerard in Stuttgart, Professor Jeanne Baxtresser in New York and Professor Michael –Martin Kofler in Salzburg. Since winning national and international prizes she has appeared at many concert halls and international festivals. In chamber music she has collaborated with such artists as Aurèle Nicolet, Leonard Hokanson, Miriam Fried, Erik Schumann and Gustav Rivinius. In 1999 she became co-principal flute of the Opernn und Museumsorchester Frankfurt am Main and is a member of the Trio Charoica.

Thomas Hoppe www.thomashoppe.com  studied with Agathe Wanek in Mainz before going to the United States to study with Lee Luvisi. He was the first recipient of the Samuel Sanders Memorial Award at the Juilliard School of Music. He performs frequently with instrumentalists and singers in the U.S. and in Europe and has performed with such eminent artists as Itzhak Perlman, Joshua Bell, Antje Weithaas, Mihaela Martin, Stefan Milenkovich, Jens Peter Maintz, Alban Gerhardt and Frans Helmerson. As pianist of the ATOS Trio he performs throughout the world.

Francis Poulenc worked on his Sonate (1952-1957) for a number of years, completing it in Canne. The renowned flautist, Jean-Pierre Rampal, gave the first performance with the composer. The flowing opening of the Allegretto malincolico belies any difficulties. Anne-Catherine Heinzmann gives some really fluent playing in this fast changing movement, moving from passionate and lively to quiet and beautiful.  There are some fine piano passages to which Thomas Hoppe contributes much. Heinzmann has a lovely, pure tone in the flowing Cantilena, with sensitive accompaniment from Thomas Hoppe. Heinzmann draws so many colours from her flute as she moulds this gorgeous movement. The frantic Presto giocoso provides playing of flair, panache and great style, always maintaining a lovely tone, even in the more forceful passages. These two musicians make a fine duo, always sensitive to each other.

Paul Hindemith’s Sonata was written in 1936, a bad year for Hindemith.  After the rise to power of the Nazis his position became more and more difficult with, in 1936, a final ban issued for the performance of his works. This led to his emigration, initially to Switzerland, and subsequently to the United States where in 1946 he acquired American nationality. It was in the U.S. that the Sonata was first performed.

As soon as the first movement, marked Heiter bewegt, opens, Hindemith’s harmonically distinctive sound world is evident; the joy is still there, tempered by a sometimes ambivalent feel. Heinzmann never misses an opportunity to draw on the textural and harmonically shifting emotions, again colouring the music exceptionally well. There is a strangely withdrawn and isolated feel to the sehr langsam slow movement. How finely these players gently move this music along as it becomes more desperate and passionate before falling back to the gentle music of the opening. There is a terrific Sehr lebhaft finale with such fine playing from both artists in a movement that seems to finally throw off the underlying tension.

Henri Dutilleux   – Sonatine pour Flüte et Piano (1943) is a work that the composer didn’t want us to hear. Such was his self-criticism that he classed all of his works prior to the end of the Second World War as preparations or exercises. Yet his little Sonatine is a delightful piece with an almost improvisatory opening, so free is it in its flow and invention. As it progresses there are some lovely touches beautifully played by Heinzmann and Hoppe. The second movement, that follows without a break, is connected to the first movement by a cadenza before the piano enters. The flute continues to dominate with some lovely passages complete with arabesques. These two players are terrific in this movement playing with such sensitivity. The music runs straight into a fast moving finale with some spectacularly good playing from Heinzmann in the weaving of the various themes. There is another solo flute section before the tempo slowly increases to a sparkling coda.

I hadn’t heard the name Robert Muczynski before. Born in Chicago, Illinois, Muczynski was a composer and pianist who studied with the exiled Russian composer, Alexander Tcherepnin. His Sonata for Flute and Piano, Op. 14 is certainly an attractive work. There is a striking rhythmic opening to the allegro Allegro Deciso, full of energy, if pent up at times. Heinzmann and Hoppe provide some lovely crisp rhythms in some great playing. The Scherzo follows, giving no respite to the performers, rushing ahead as it does. Rhythmically this is also a challenging movement. The solo flute opens the Andante in a lovely flowing melody before the piano enters to take up the theme. As the theme is developed it tries to rise to a more passionate level but it doesn’t succeed, ending quietly.  The lively Allegro con molto pushes ahead with varying strident and quieter moments. There is a terrific cadenza for solo flute, with more great playing from Heinzmann, before the music hurtles to the coda.

Frank Martin’s Ballade pour Flûte et Piano (1939) is often known in its version for flute, string orchestra and piano, rather than the original for flute and piano as heard here. It was written as a compulsory competition piece for the first Geneva International Music Competition. The work opens in a very distinctive Martin way, with a kind of slow unstoppable rhythmic plod before speeding to a small climax. After a brief moment the music surges ahead before an extended solo passage for flute. The music then builds up a real head of steam as it heads to the formidable coda with some pretty spectacular playing from both artists.

This is a glorious disc that works so well as a recital to play right through. The recording from the famous Jesus Christus Kirche, Berlin-Dahlen, the venue for so many great recordings of the past, is first rate, proving to be as good for small scale forces as it is for choral and orchestral recordings. Audite are certainly celebrating their 40th anniversary in style with another fine recording.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Beautiful playing from violist Hong-Mei Xiao in works for viola and orchestra by Ernest Bloch on a new release from Naxos

Ernest Bloch (1880-1959) www.ernestbloch.org  www.ernestblochsociety.org  was born in Geneva and began playing the violin at age nine, making his first attempts at composition soon afterwards. In 1891 he entered the Geneva Conservatory of Music studying violin with Louis Rey, later studying music theory and composition with Émile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865-1950). In 1896, on the advice of the great violinist, Eugène Ysaÿe (1858-1931), Bloch furthered his studies at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Brussels where his teachers included Ysaÿe.

He later travelled around Europe, moving to Germany, where he studied composition with Iwan Knorr (1853-1916) at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt.  In 1903, he travelled to Paris, before returning to Geneva. In 1916, Bloch settled in the United States, taking American citizenship in 1924. He held several teaching appointments in the U.S. with George Antheil, Frederick Jacobi, Quincy Porter, Bernard Rogers, and Roger Sessions among his pupils. In 1917 Bloch became the first teacher of composition at Mannes College - The New School for Music, a post he held for three years.

From 1920 - 1925 he was the first Musical Director of the newly formed Cleveland Institute of Music, going on to become director of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. In 1941, Bloch moved to the small coastal community of Agate Beach, Oregon and lived there for the rest of his life. He taught summer courses at the University of California, Berkeley until 1952. He died in 1959 in Portland, Oregon at the age of 78.

Bloch has often been considered a Jewish composer and it is true that his Jewish heritage was important to him. Yet his music contains a variety of influences such as Renaissance, neo-Classical, neo-Romantic, Swiss, Native American, Chinese, and Gregorian chant.  His works include an Opera in 3 acts, Macbeth, (1909, Geneva-Paris), vocal and choral works, orchestral works including two symphonies, concertante works including a violin concerto, chamber, instrumental and piano works.

The work that first drew me to the music of Bloch was his Sacred Service recorded by Geoffrey Simon and the London Symphony Orchestra and Zemel Choir for Chandos Records; a glorious work well worth hearing.

Naxos Records www.naxos.com have just released a new recording by Hong-Mei Xiao (viola) www.hongmeixiao.com with Mariusz Smolij www.mariuszsmolij.com  and the Budapest Symphony Orchestra MÁV www.mavzenekar.hu  playing works by Bloch for viola and orchestra.


Born in China, Hong-Mei Xiao was the first-prize winner of the 1987 Geneva International Music Competition. Her extraordinary artistry and brilliant virtuoso technique have won her accolades from critics across the globe as she has established herself as an international artist. She has toured throughout Europe, North America, and the Far East, performing in major concert halls appearing as soloist with renowned orchestras.

Ms. Xiao has held the honour of United States Artistic Ambassador during extensive concert tours of Europe. As a special guest soloist, Ms. Xiao was invited to give the premiere performance of Alfred Schnittke's Viola Concerto with L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in Geneva. The Geneva Tribune heralded her as the "ideal interpreter of the music". She has been invited as an adjudicator for the 2013 Lionel Tertis International Viola Festival and Competition in the United Kingdom. Ms. Xiao is currently on the faculty at the University of Arizona School of Music.

Hong-Mei Xiao was the featured soloist in the world premiere recording of the original and newly revised versions of the Bartok Viola Concerto. This recording with the Budapest Philharmonic has received international critical acclaim since its release by Naxos.

Bloch’s Baal Shem (Three Pictures of Chassidic Life) (1923) was not originally for viola and orchestra but was arranged by Hong-Mei Xiao, in 2005.

In No.1 Vidui (Contrition) Hong-Mei Xiao plays a lovely theme with a distinctive Jewish sound against a gentle orchestral accompaniment, rising to a slight climax midway. No.2 Nigun (Improvisation) has the feel of a film epic as the orchestra opens suddenly. The viola enters above the lower strings and continues with some attractive effects before the return of the orchestra in the opening theme. This piece has a more concerto feel than the first, settling half way through to a lovely melody with some tricky parts for the violist and, finally, a lovely hushed ending. The lively final piece, No.3 Simchas Torah (Rejoicing in the Holy Scriptures), takes its theme from the wedding song Di mzinke oisgegeben (The Youngest Daughter Marries) with a lovely flowing melody leading to a rich coda. This is an attractive work beautifully played.

The Suite for Viola and Orchestra (1919) was one of Bloch’s first works to be written in the USA. The Lento – Allegro – Moderato opens with an orchestral outburst, before some dark sounds are heard from the viola with a mysterious orchestral accompaniment. Soon a melancholy melody emerges tinged with an Eastern rather than Jewish influence as the viola weaves around the orchestra. Part way through, a livelier folksy theme enters but the music soon returns to its earlier flowing, rhapsodic feel. There are dramatic passages before the music leads to a glorious glowing coda.

Striding lower strings and viola open the Allegro ironico moving quickly forward. There are wild woodwind passages, before a slow, quiet section where the viola intones a richly ornamented theme. The striding theme returns with sections of the orchestra scurrying around. Later a broader melody appears for the orchestra as the music again quietens. The music gains momentum again before the soloist and orchestra make their way to a sudden end.

Harp and strings atmospherically open the Lento before the viola enters in a lovely melody with oboe accompaniment. The viola continues with its deeply rich melody unfolding over a mysterious orchestra. Hong-Mei Xiao is magnificent in this movement as it works its way to a lovely coda.

Finally there is a lively Molto vivo full of percussion, adding again an oriental feel. The music really shifts along and, as the movement progresses, it works itself into a broader melody before arriving at a slower section allowing the lovely tone of Xiao’s viola to shine through. Soon the momentum increases again rising to a glorious climax before dropping back to a quiet gentle section, but the music soon surges ahead to a decisive coda.

Suite hébraïque (1951) is a late work that opens with a Rapsodie, a Jewish, or rather, Hebrew sounding melody, which weaves its way through a brief climax, becoming more passionate as it proceeds. There is a brief solo viola passage before developing a rather timeless feeling to the music. Processional: Andante con moto opens with a plodding orchestral theme with the viola rhapsodising over it. Affirmation: Maestoso opens with a flowing orchestral theme that is soon joined by the viola. The Jewish flavour just peeks through as the music progresses, eventually leading to a rich coda. Again Hong-Mei Xiao is an excellent soloist with a lovely full rich tone.

Mariusz Smolij and the Budapest Symphony Orchestra MÁV have made a number of recordings for Naxos including works by Miklós Rózsa and Eugene Zádor. They are a very fine orchestra indeed with Mariusz Smolij directing very idiomatic performances. They are well recorded in Studio 22 of Hungarian Radio, Budapest.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Terrific performances of works by Gordon Crosse and Sir John Manduell on a new release from Metier

Having only just reviewed a new recording from Toccata Classics of Matthew Taylor’s magnificent second symphony, along comes a fine recording from Metier of works by Gordon Crosse and John Manduell, giving further proof of the number of fine composers Britain has.

Gordon Crosse was born in 1937 in Bury, Lancashire, England.  After gaining a first class honours degree at Oxford, he undertook two years’ research on early fifteenth-century music. He has since held various appointments at the Universities of Birmingham and Essex, and was for two years Composer-in-Residence at King’s College, Cambridge. In 1976 he returned to his home in Suffolk to devote all his time to composition. He did, however, spend 1977 as Visiting Professor in Composition at the University of California. Much of Crosse’s work reflects his interest in the dramatic and literary arts.

Crosse’s works include four operas (of which The Story of Vasco was premièred at the London Coliseum, and Purgatory recorded by Argo), choral works, music theatre, orchestral works and chamber works. In 1986 he was commissioned to write a work for trumpet and strings for the BBC Proms and in 1990 a large-scale choral and orchestral piece for the Scottish National Chorus and Orchestra was premièred in Glasgow.

This new release, entitled Mixed Doubles, from Metier
www.divine-art.co.uk/metierhome.htm  features three of Gordon Crosse’s works, Brief Encounter, for oboe d’amore, recorder and strings, his Concerto for viola and strings with French horn and his Fantasia on Ca’ the Yowes, for recorder, harp and strings. Together with Sir John Manduell’s Flutes concerto for flautist, harp, strings and percussion and Double concerto, for oboe, cor anglais, strings and percussion.

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The Manchester Sinfonia www.manchestersinfonia.co.uk conducted by Timothy Reynish www.timreynish.com  is joined by Michael Cox (flute)  www.londonsinfonietta.org.uk/artist/michael-cox , Richard Simpson (oboe) www.divine-art.com/AS/richardsimpson.htm , Alison Teale (cor anglais) www.alisonteale.com , John Turner (recorder) www.divine-art.com/AS/johnturner.htm , Matthew Jones (viola) www.rwcmd.ac.uk/other/biography/strings/violin/mathew_jones.aspx and Anna Christensen (harp) www.harpgear.net/harp_home.html

Brief Encounter for oboe d’amore, recorder and strings (2009) opens beautifully with the lovely sound of the oboe d’amore blending exquisitely with the recorder. There is a distinctive two note motif that seems to reflect the word ‘goodbye’ and the two solo instruments often seem to have a conversation, at times talking over each other. The music grows slightly more agitated in the faster central section but the music is never less than melancholy, eventually returning to the slow, opening melody.  This is a lovely work, really quite unusual and beautifully played by Richard Simpson and John Turner.

Crosse’s Concerto for viola and strings with French horn (2009) is not a double concerto, the horn only appearing in the last movement to reinforce the strings. The Prelude: Andante calmo – più mosso – vivace opens with the rich sound of the viola before the orchestra joins developing this somewhat timeless sounding melody, a modern take on a traditional English modal theme. There is fine playing from Matthew Jones in some of the more taxing writing that later develops. The second movement, Song: lento semplice – più mosso – lento, brings a glorious melody, apparently salvaged from an earlier trumpet concerto. Here the viola brings an earnestness to the music, the viola playing an anguished motif against the static orchestra. The Finale: Vivace has strongly rhythmic music that brings a grittier feel to the finale, though the music retains a softer underlying melody. After a broader passage the rhythmic opening theme re-appears. As the music moves towards the coda, a passionate viola melody is heard against ethereal strings, reinforced by a horn.

This is a particularly strong work that contains some glorious music with distinctive textures and colours.

Crosse’s Fantasia on Ca’ the Yowes for recorder, harp and strings further indicates this composer’s ability to provide many lovely, unusual sonorities and textures. He gives us this strikingly beautiful work for the unusual combination of recorder, harp and strings, a somewhat magical piece conjuring up the feeling of ancient times, finely played by John Turner and Anna Christensen with the strings of the Manchester Sinfonia.

The music rises to a brief central climax that precedes a livelier section developing to a brooding, weightier, slow section that gives way to a gentle coda.

Sir John Manduell, born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1928, studied at the University of Strasbourg, Jesus College, Cambridge and the Royal Academy of Music with Lennox Berkeley. He joined the BBC in 1956 as a producer, becoming Head of Music for the Midlands and East Anglia in 1961 before returning to London in 1964. In 1968 he left the BBC to become Programme Director of the Cheltenham Festival, a position he held for 25 years. Manduell has held several positions of prestige at leading institutions including Director of Music at University of Lancaster and Principal of the Royal Northern College of Music. Other appointments have included President of the European Association of Conservatoires, President of the British Arts Festival Association and President of the National Association of Youth Orchestra His compositions consist mainly of chamber and orchestral works. The String Quartet, ‘Prayers from the Ark’ and Double Concerto were all commissioned by the Cardiff Festival and his ‘Vistas’ was commissioned by the Halle Orchestra and Kent Nagano.

Manduell’s Flutes concerto for flautist, harp, strings and percussion (2000) is so titled due to the three flutes used in the work, a normal concert flute, an alto flute and a piccolo. Again, this is not a double concerto, as such, despite the harp having a prominent role. A swaying string theme opens the Vivo – lento before the harp enters against pizzicato strings. Quietly and gently the flute can be heard behind the strings in the distance before moving to a more prominent position with the orchestra. As the music becomes livelier there is percussion to add colour and interest. There are some lovely sparkling passages for flute and, as the music slows, some beautifully effective timbres. I like the way Manduell uses the harp to decorate the music between the flute passages. Eventually there is a short solo section for flute, almost a mini cadenza and, towards the end, percussion join before a lively, flowing coda where the harp makes another appearance before short notes on the flute bring an end.

The Quasi adagio has a gently flowing opening with celeste and harp appearing before the alto flute enters in this strangely dark meditative movement. There is some really lovely playing from Malcolm Cox and Anna Christensen.

In the Adagio – allegretto – languido low strings, the rainstick and rippling harp arpeggios open the movement before the piccolo enters leading to a delicate solo passage. The orchestra enters, followed by the harp, leading to a livelier section with flute and drums. As the music returns to a slower, quieter section, the alto flute enters.  The harp enters before the flute and orchestra return in this lovely passage. The magical coda arrives quietly with the return of the opening sound of the rainstick.

Manduell’s Double concerto, for oboe, cor anglais, strings and percussion (1985/2012) has the rare combination of oboe and cor anglais. The Quasi adagio – allegro molto opens with quiet orchestral string sounds and a marimba before the oboe enters before being joined by the cor anglais to weave a faster flowing melody. As the music progresses the oboe and cor anglais weave around each other. There is a brief percussion section with marimba before the oboe enters, followed by the cor anglais, weaving around each other in a lovely section. This leads to a vigorous orchestral passage which, together with the solo instruments brings the movement to an end.

Adagio molto. Passionate strings open before the oboe enters. There is a repeat of the opening with glissandi strings before the cor anglais, then the oboe, take the melody. There are some lovely string and percussion sounds in a delicate, quiet section before the music becomes more flowing as both instruments enter. The quiet reflective mood returns, though a louder percussive section interrupts a number of times before the strange and delicate string and percussion sounds return to accompany the oboe and cor anglais to the coda.

The Allegro vivo has a percussive opening with the two instrumentalists entering against this percussiveness. Throughout, the percussive nature of the music breaks out even though there is a quiet, more delicate passage part way through. Eventually the music makes its way to a frantic coda ending a work that gets a terrific performance from Richard Simpson and Alison Teale.

The Manchester Sinfonia under Timothy Reynish gives wonderful performances throughout and the recordings made at St Thomas’ Church, Stockport, England are excellent. All the recordings were made in the presence of the composers.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

A new release from BIS gives an opportunity to hear less well known Wagner and a really fine performance of the Wesendonck Lieder

The Battle of Leipzig or Battle of the Nations was fought by the coalition armies of Russia, Prussia, Austria and Sweden against the French army of Napoleon at Leipzig, Saxony. Napoleon's army also contained Polish and Italian troops as well as Germans from the Confederation of the Rhine. The battle marked the culmination of the campaign of 1813 and involved over 600,000 soldiers, making it the largest battle in Europe prior to World War I.

The battle was the most dramatic event in Leipzig’s seven hundred-year history. After two days of fighting, Napoleon moved his troops into the city. The streets became filled with the dead and wounded with thousands dying in the plague that followed. One of the victims of the plague was a police clerk, Friedrich Wagner.

On 22nd May 1813, six months after the death of Friedrich Wagner, his son was born on the second floor of No. 3 the Bruhl, known as House of the Red and White Lion, in Leipzig. He was baptised Wilhelm Richard Wagner.

Two hundred years later, as his birth is celebrated, there are numerous releases of recordings, from complete sets of his operas to single discs such as a new release from BIS Records www.bis.se .

Thomas Dausgaard http://thomasdausgaard.com and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra http://imgartists.com/artist/swedishchamberorchestra perform the original 1841 version of the Overture to Der Fliegende Holländer together with the final version from 1860. These two versions frame Wagner’s Wesendonck-Lieder sung by the Swedish soprano Nina Stemme http://ninastemme.com , who is particularly known for her Wagnerian operatic roles and sang the Wesendonck-Lieder at the 2010 Salzburg International Festival.

Also on this disc is Wagner’s own transcription for violin and orchestra of the last of the Wesendonck-Lieder, Träume together with the Siegfried-Idyll and Prelude to Die Mestersingers von Nürnberg

BIS 2022
This new release is another in the Open Door series of recordings of romantic symphonic music that Dausgaard and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra are making for BIS.

The 1841 original version of Wagner’s Overture to ‘Der Fliegende Holländer’ receives a nicely taut performance that has a directness that brings out much of Wagner’s early thoughts.

After making her debut as Cherubino in Italy, the Swedish soprano Nina Stemme  http://ninastemme.com , has appeared at opera houses including Stockholm, Vienna State Opera, Semperoper Dresden, Geneva, Zürich, Teatro San Carlo Naples, Gran Teatre del Liceu Barcelona, Metropolitan Opera New York, San Francisco Opera as well as at the festivals of Bayreuth, Salzburg, Savonlinna, Glyndebourne and Bregenz.

Whilst in no way confined to Wagnerian roles her repertoire includes Eva (Die Mestersingers von Nürnberg), Elisabeth (Tannhäuser), Elsa (Lohengrin), Senta (Der Fliegende Holländer), Sieglinde (Die Walküre), and her outstanding first Isolde (Tristan und Isolde) at Glyndebourne Festival Opera which has now been issued on DVD. She has also sung Isolde in EMI’s famous recording of Tristan und Isolde with Placido Domingo and with great success at Bayreuth Festival, Zurich Opera and Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London. Further highlights were her phenomenal Sieglinde and Brünnhilde (Siegfried) in the new Ring cycle at Vienna State Opera and a sensational Brünnhilde (Die Walküre). She has sung most recently in Tannhäuser at Opera Bastille Paris, and Brünnhilde (Götterdämmerung) in the new Ring at Munich State Opera.

Nina Stemme’s Wagner credentials are, therefore, without doubt.

In the opening Der Engel (The Angel) of Wesendonck – Lieder (1857/58) the Swedish Chamber Orchestra provide a lovely opening. When Nina Stemme enters she is at once powerfully idiomatic, showing her wonderful ability to extract the exact emotion from the text. With Stehe still (Stand still) she brings a real Wagnerian voice to this tempestuous song. She has power and fullness to her voice with wonderful control of dynamics. Stemme excels herself in Im Treibhaus (In the Hothouse) bringing such poetry and sensitivity to this wonderful song in a lovely performance. She gets terrific support from Thomas Dausgaard and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra. Schmerzen (Sorrows) gets a terrifically sweeping opening before Stemme enters in full voice, magnificent, soaring over the orchestra. There is some fine control of voice in Träume (Dreams), rising to some exquisite moments.

It is fascinating to hear the final, 1860, version of the Overture to ‘Der Fliegende Holländer’ which opens with a grand sweep from the Swedish Chamber Orchestra under Thomas Dausgaard in a performance and version that shows more sophistication. There is fine tautness again from this fine chamber orchestra. Occasionally Dausgaard does seem to hold back a little too much but when he lets go the effect is terrific.

Siegried - Idyll (1870) is exquisitely played with just the right amount of free flowing forward momentum. There are many fine details in this carefully prepared performance with some lovely woodwind contributions. At times the tempo is quite quick, adding to the drama and, as the music heads toward the coda there is a satisfying feel of completion.

With Träume (No.5 of Wesendonck – Lieder) – version for violin and orchestra (1858) we have an opportunity to hear Wagner’s own arrangement of this song beautifully played by Katarina Andreasson. This novelty, nevertheless, reduces this lovely song to more of an encore or, as Sir Thomas Beecham would have it, a lollipop. Shorn of the words and vocal texture there is something missing.

Dausgaard doesn’t hang around in the opening of the Prelude to ‘Die Meistersingers von Nurnberg’ (1862). In this brisk performance, the smaller sound of the Swedish Chamber Orchestra may lack the weight of a larger body but what superb clarity there is. This is a really nicely paced performance.

Overall this is a fine release with an opportunity to hear less known Wagner as well as a really fine performance of the Wesendonck Lieder. There is an exceptionally clear and fine recording as well as excellent booklet notes and full texts in German and English. 

Friday, 5 July 2013

A beautifully played and produced disc of works for flute and piano on a new release from Diversions Records featuring Kenneth Smith and Paul Rhodes

Claude-Paul Taffanel (1844-1908) is considered the founder of the French Flute School that became dominant in mid-20th century throughout Europe and America. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Louis Dorus (1812-96), who introduced the Boehm flute there, graduating in 1860. For the next thirty years he pursued a brilliant career as a soloist and as an orchestral player, as one of a group of French musicians who made strenuous efforts to develop a national musical style. Taffanel became Professor of Flute at the Conservatoire in 1883 and revised the institute's repertoire and teaching methods, reintroducing works by foreign composers and by those of earlier generations, including Bach. Taffanel's pupils learned to play in a new, smoother style that included a light and carefully-modulated vibrato.

Flute Vocalise, a new release from Diversions Records
www.divine-art.co.uk/DAhome.htm is a tribute to Paul Taffanel devoted to his legacy. Kenneth Smith (flute) http://www.divineartrecords.com/AS/kensmith.htm and Paul Rhodes (piano) http://www.divineartrecords.com/AS/paulrhodes.htm  perform works that either have a connection with Taffanel or that reflect the seamless vocal line that his style of flute playing gave.

Kenneth Smith is now firmly established as one of Britain’s leading flute players featuring on countless recordings from the symphonic and operatic repertoire with the Philharmonia and other leading Symphony Orchestras. A steadily increasing solo discography includes Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp with the Philharmonia under Sinopoli for Deutsche Grammophon, Vivaldi concertos with the London Musici and Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 with Maurice André and the Philharmonia under Muti for EMI. His long established partnership with the pianist Paul Rhodes has already resulted in seven albums of music for flute and piano.
Paul Rhodes read music at Edinburgh University where he studied composition with Kenneth Leighton. He continued his piano studies later with Marjorie Hazlehurst at the Birmingham Conservatoire and with Hamish Milne in London. Master-classes with Louis Kentner, Vlado Perlemuter and Mitsuko Uchida also had a decisive influence on his playing. Paul divides his time between performing, teaching and examining. Rhodes has featured in numerous recordings and broadcasts with Kenneth Smith in a musical partnership that has now reached its twentieth year.

Cécile Chaminade (1857-1944) was commissioned by Taffanel to write her Concertino, Op.107 for the 1902 Paris Conservatoire Concours, the first female composer to provide such a work. There is some beautiful legato playing from Kenneth Smith. What a lovely sound he draws from his flute finely accompanied by Paul Rhodes. This piece is not only highly attractive but presents the player with a range of demands including some exhilaratingly fast passages complete with a cadenza.

Fryderyk Chopin’s (1810-1849) Variations on a Theme by Rossini is an early work believed to have been written around 1824. After a staccato presentation of Rossini’s theme the music develops through an attractive series of variations. As the piece progresses it gets increasingly more difficult for the flautist. This is not a particularly great piece by the 14 year old composer, but certainly worth hearing, particularly as finely played as it is here.

Apparently Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) and Taffanel often performed together.  Saint-Saëns Le Cygne (The Swan) was added by Taffanel  to a collection of music that he considered would suit the flute, published in 1888. Here we have a beautifully played arrangement, by Kenneth Smith, of The Swan

The music of Benjamin Godard (1849-1895) has received a revival through Naxos’ recording of his Concerto No.2 for Violin and Orchestra, Concerto Romantique for Violin and Orchestra and Scenes Poétiques for Orchestra. His Suite de Trois Morceaux, Op.116 (1890) was written for flute and orchestra or flute and piano as performed here. There is a gentle yet flowing allegretto finely played, an Idylle where Kenneth Smith’s lovely flute tone brings a lovely quality to the music and a light hearted Valse that allows this flautist many opportunities to display his technique and panache. There is some great playing from these artists with a superb virtuoso end.

Who doesn’t know Jules Massenet’s 1842-1912) Meditation from Thaïs. This was Massenet’s most popular opera and was first performed at the Opéra Garnier in Paris on 16 March 1894 conducted by Paul Taffanel who had been appointed conductor of the Paris Opera four years previously. Smith and Rhodes bring a lovely warmth to this well known yet still beautiful piece.

Claude Debussy (1862-1918) wrote his Petite Suite for piano duet but it was later orchestrated by the composer, organist and conductor, Henri Busser who, at the request of Paul Taffanel,  had also written a piece for the Conservatoire examinations in 1908. It was from Busser’s orchestral version that Kenneth Smith and Paul Rhodes arranged En Bateau, from the Petite Suite, for flute and piano. This is a lovely performance with a sparkling flute part and attractive playing from both performers.

The name Giulio Briccialdi (1818-1881) is not a name that will be very well known to most people yet the tune that appears in his Il Carnivale di Venezia, Op.77 is very well known. There is a flourishing opening for flute and piano before the very well known tune arrives. This piece is great fun with some spectacularly fine playing form Kenneth Smith.

Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943) knew when he had a winning tune arranging his Vocalise, O.34 No.14, originally for soprano and piano, for soprano and orchestra as well as orchestra alone. Since then there have been numerous arrangements for a variety of instruments. Kenneth Smith has made this arrangement for flute and piano which works exceedingly well. What we lose in richer melody is made up by Smith’s beautiful flute phrases and Rhodes’ idiomatic piano part.

Paul Taffanel was friend, mentor and teacher to Philippe Gaubert (1879-1941) whose Nocturne et Allegro Scherzando was played by the composer and Taffanel before students in his class. Present was a certain young student, Marcel Moyse, whom Kenneth Smith later had the privilege of studying this piece with. A lovely languid Nocturne, sensuously played by Kenneth Smith with some fine passages from Paul Rhodes, precedes an Allegro Scherzando with a fluttering opening and a lovely broad melody before a brilliant coda.

Gabriel Faure (1845-1924) wrote his Berceuse, Op.16 for violin, in which form it was premiered in 1880. This arrangement for flute and piano of this perfectly formed piece receives a performance of such care and sensitivity in this seemingly simple little work.

The longest piece on this disc is François Borne’s (1840-1920) Fantaisie Brillante sur ‘Carmen’. Bizet’s opera was a favourite of Taffanel who wrote five fantasies of his own. The work opens with the piano before the flute enters in this Fantaisie built on several themes from Bizet’s Carmen. Occasionally there are some striking piano parts and the opportunity to show some lovely flute textures in this simply brilliant performance.

These pieces may be somewhat slight but there is much to enjoy on this beautifully played and produced disc.