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Flute Waves
Georg Friedrich HÄNDEL (1685-1759)
Entrance of the Queen of Sheba [3:00]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Le Tombeau de Couperin [11:18]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

La Traviata: preludio [3:28]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Le nozze di Figaro: Overture [4:22]

Ein Sommernachtstraum: Scherzo [4:44]

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concerto BWV 1060 C minor [13:19]
Siegfried MATTHUS (b. 1934)
Des Meeres und der Flöten Wellen [6:08]

Grigoras DINICU (1889-1949)
Hora Staccato [2:29]
Henry MANCINI (1924-1994)

The Pink Panther Suite [10:34]
Die 14 Berliner Flötisten (Thomas Beyer, Wolfgang Dasbach, Rudolf Döbler; Wolfgang Dünschede, Christina Fassbender, Jochen Hoffmann, Christiane Hupka, Hiko Iizuka, Frauke Leopold, Robert Lerch, Ulf-Dieter Schaaff, Beate-Gabriela Schmitt, Werner Tast, Birgit Roth (special guest))Andreas Blau (music director)
rec. 20-22 June 2005, Christuskirche, Berlin-Oberschöneweide

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The booklet notes to this issue are largely occupied with a defence of arranging existing music for differing forces to those intended by the composer. Working as I do for the Netherlands Flute Orchestra, I have quite a sideline in composing and arranging music for masses of flutes, and as subcontrabass soloist I get to sit at the back and revel in the results of my labours. I don’t feel there is any real need to make any apology for creating repertoire for what is after all a relatively new phenomenon. If I need solo pieces for my subcontra I shall have to either write my own, or nip into the library and do some research into solo work for string double-bass. If you want new music for flute orchestra you either write your own or arrange existing works – there’s no other way. There are of course plenty of precendents, and the only argument against I can think of is that all those arrangements are taking up space which could be filled by us working composers – six minutes from one living composer on a sixty minute programme is hardly much compensation but then, modern music doesn’t sell, does it ...?

All this said, this is an intriguing production. Flute ensembles like ‘Vif Baroxx’ have been having a go at sexing-up alternative versions of existing repertoire for a while now, but the 14 Berlin Flautists are a serious bunch of musicians, and the emphasis is very much on  professionalism. Just looking at the biogs in the booklet is enough to give you an inferiority complex, but as this group has been criticised as being a collection of soloists rather than a more integrated ensemble in the past I was pleasantly surprised to hear how melifluous and coherent they sound. This is their second disc for MDG, and extends the repertoire of the earlier ‘Dancing Flutes’ into more serious concert repertoire. All of the arrangements work extremely well. The big problem with homogeneous ensembles like this is variety, but when you consider the range from piccolo to subcontrabass flutes there is really no difference between this and a string orchestra. Good players with a feeling for ensemble work can influence the colour of the orchestral sound, and the attack can be rhythmic or gentle, just as with strings. Take two movements from The Pink Panther Suite as an example: ‘It Had Better Be Tonight’ has a good amount of rhythmic punch, whereas the next, ‘Royal Blue’, has all of the eliptical tone required of a rich smooch. Gregorias Dinicu’s Hora stacatto is another case in point – fun fluff, but a rip-roaring showcase for how rhythmic flutes can be.

Entrance of the Queen of Sheba is a favourite for flute ensembles, and the Berliners show how it should be done – brisk and swinging, no messing about with muddy overlong notes and plenty of dynamic contrast. Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin works very well. The clarity of French piano writing from Ravel and Debussy make for excellent arrangement material, and the quicksilver technique and palette of the 14 flautists is give free rein here. The full lyrical effect of Verdi’s Preludio comes accross well, and Mozart’s Overture to Le nozze di Figaro will survive just about anything. This and the Mendelssohn are nice enough, but it’s perhaps a little harder to see the point of their inclusion here, especially as the Scherzo is a flute solo to start with. The Bach Concerto is an ambitious arrangement for a work scored for two keyboards, strings and basso continuo. The booklet notes have a hair-tearingly annoying paragraph about the difference between performance practice on pianos as opposed to harpsichords, but the interesting point is how good this Bach sounds without any keyboards at all. The work blooms anew as if a new Bach concerto had been discovered, and I am sure the great man would have loved it. Siegfried Matthus’ Des Meeres und der Flöten Wellen (The Waves of the Sea and the Flutes) is an atmospheric and effective work, with both virtuoso arabesques and an inexorable intensity. The fine piccolo tone of the players should be mentioned here – I sometimes wondered if they were cheating by playing sopranino recorders, which should very much be taken as a compliment.

I’ve moaned about the booklet notes, and will conclude on that subject with a quote which readers may provide their own interpretation: “The somewhat less astonishing piece of knowledge is added to it that a work that already in its title elevates flute playing to the nobility is in this respect incomparably easier.”

The ensemble is set in a richly resonant church acoustic which is of course highly complementary to the flute sound. This is the latest in a series of DVD-As and SACD issued by the MDG label employing the trademarked Swiss technology known as 2+2+2. It employs the centre and subwoofer channels of the six-channel complement to feed an additional pair of front speakers mounted half the distance above the L & R speakers as those speakers are separated from one another. The intention is to make better use of these two channels in creating a more realistic frontal soundstage and a wider sweet spot. This it apparently does, though it would seem to take quite a bit of effort to set the whole thing up. There are instructions and diagrams at the back of the booklet for those intrepid enough to try. I found the stereo version to be superb enough for the time being. If there is any criticism of the recording to be made it is in the balance with the lowest flutes. From what I could hear of them there is plenty of resonance and weight to their sound, but they do sometimes need just a little more help to balance with the rest of the flutes. Wide bore instruments project less, and I’ve often found the need for some subtle amplification on stage. Balancing in a recording should give a little extra oomph to the bottom notes otherwise the harmonic voicing can easily become top heavy. That said; I play an even wider-bore subcontra made from PVC rainpipes which has superbly stubby wallop in the low bass – just what you need with 30 other instruments on top of you, but maybe lacking some of the refinement of the instruments pictured on this booklet. All in all, this is a warmly recommended issue for everyone interested in flutes of all shapes and sizes, hearing a crack ensemble perform familiar repertoire in a new light, mucking about with very ‘Hi-Fi’ and enhancing one’s life in general.

Dominy Clements    







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