Friedrich Schenker’s large-scale Flötensinfonie
("Flute Symphony") was written at the suggestion of the present
soloist who premièred it in 1978. The title of the work clearly
reminds one of Britten’s Cello Symphony or of some older
models such as Berlioz’s Harold in Italy, Szymanowski’s
Fourth Symphony or d’Indy’s Symphonie Cévenole
- all concertante pieces in which the soloist plays an important part
without really stealing the show, if I may put it a bit bluntly. Truth
to tell: the solo parts in these pieces are all rather demanding and
virtuosic, though they are an integral part of the musical discourse
rather than an outsider competing with the orchestra.
Schenker’s Flötensinfonie is no
exception. The first movement Allegro moderato, though, is a
fairly virtuoso piece of music displaying an often capricious solo part
confronted by a similarly nervous, at times skittish orchestral part.
It alternates highly virtuosic solo passages and calmer episodes. The
prevalent mood, however, is one of restless unease. The second movement
Grave is a slow processional of Mahlerian intensity. The histrionics
of the first movement are now largely put aside for most of this long
movement. Agility nevertheless returns halfway through the movement
in an orgiastic Dithyrambe II at first recalling the capricious
mood of the first movement and in which the orchestra abruptly strikes
up a raucous, rather ramshackle, heavy-footed Marcia di Prussia
which the soloist tries to counter by calling-up all his/her resources.
But in vain, for with ever-mounting stubborn intensity, the orchestra
silences the soloist. All that can be done then, is to restate the Grave
material which leads into the long final cadenza "In modo di
rituale" which peacefully concludes the piece.
Schenker’s Flötensinfonie is unquestionably
a substantial and weighty piece of music, though a rather demanding
one, that only yields its secrets on repeated hearings, but it is well
worth the effort. A welcome release though a bit short in terms of playing
time. I wonder whether it would not have been possible to rescue some
other work by Schenker from the Nova archives.