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Laurel ZUCKER - Inflorescence – Music for Solo Flute
CD1 Pieces for solo flute
Jacques IBERT (1890-1962)

Piece for Flute (1936) [4:59]
Lowell LIEBERMAN (b. 1961)

Soliloquy for solo flute, Op.44 (1994) [5:29]
Robert MUCZYNSKI (b. 1929)

Three Preludes for Unaccompanied Flute, Op. 18 (1962) [3:03]
Jindrich FELD (b. 1925)

Quatre Pièces for flute alone (1964) [6:34]
Laurel ZUCKER (b. 1955)

Three Solos for Flute alone (1983) [8:45]
Arthur HONEGGER (1892-1955)

Danse de la Chèvre (1932) [4:00]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)

Eight Pieces for Flute solo (1927) [6:47]
Friederich KUHLAU (1786-1832)

Divertissement Op. 68, Nos. 1-2 [14:41]
CD2 Inflorescence for solo flute
Toru TAKEMITSU (1930-96)

Air for flute (1996) [5:38]
Alan HOVHANESS (1911-2000)

Sonata for Flute solo, Op. 118 (1967) [8:15]
Kazuo FUKUSHIMA (b.1930)

Requiem for solo flute (1956) [4:05]
Mei for solo flute (1962) [4:46]
Ulysses KAY (1917-1995)

Prelude for Unaccompanied Flute (1943 rev. 1975) [3:09]
Virgil THOMPSON (1896-1989)

Sonata for flute alone (1944) [8:45]
Stephen BLUMBERG (1962)

Inflorescence (1995) [3:00]
Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)

The Children are Playing (1921) [1:16]
Edgard VARESE (1883-1965)

Density 21.5 for solo flute (1936)
Friederich KUHLAU (1786-1832)

Divertissement Op. 68, Nos. 3 - 6 [30:47]
Laurel ZUCKER - solo flute
Rec. The Unitarian Church, Kensington, California, 2000?
CANTILENA RECORDS 66019-2 [56:16 + 76:40]

This is an extremely interesting overview of music for solo flute. Its range takes in some of the most famous works in the repertoire to several which many a flautist will not have heard – let alone tried to perform.

These are well recorded performances, placed at a suitable distance in a not-too resonant acoustic. Laurel Zucker is a powerful and persuasive player, and while my flautist/composer’s ear will always be picking out niggling details the casual listener will almost certainly be untroubled by such interpretive or technical points. To those who love the sound of the flute in its purest solo setting, and who are interested in exploring new repertoire, I recommend they buy this set and read no further.

For students who will follow the scores and either nod sagely or shake their heads sadly in agreement or dismissal of my personal comments, by all means take note or not of the following. Like the mean man on the audition committee I have only picked out a few works; otherwise we shall be here all day, but you can take the few as being representative of the many, if you see what I mean.

The first disc begins with Ibert’s Pièce, which history tells us he dashed down at a party as a challenge, with Marcel Moyse performing the premiere within the hour. Zucker’s performance is nicely turned, but a little mannered for my taste. She tends to lean a little too heavily on the first note of the falling major third motive, is free and easy with the dynamics, and pushes or pulls the rhythm unnecessarily here and there – lingering a little too long over notes and breaking up the forward momentum, or rushing certain corners. Like Debussy’s Syrinx, everything is there in the score, and if you play what is written it will work the best. That notorious chromatic scale in thirds is a bit of a mess as well. It gives us mere mortals reassurance to hear human failings on record, and I admit I can only manage it 50% of the time – which fluffs would hopefully be forgiven in a live concert. Such things will return to haunt you however, if they aren’t as good or as perfect on a recording. Eleonore Pameijer recorded it better (Brilliant Classics), and the next time I see her, I’ll ask how many takes it took.

Associated Board students will be interested in hearing an interpretation of Hindemith’s Acht Stücke. Laurel Zucker is persuasive as always, but I have a feeling the composer would have one or two remarks to make. Take the opening. How would you think the score was marked: f, ff? No, it’s only mf and we have some way to go yet! In bar 10 of the second movement there is a sudden leap forward in tempo which is a bit disconcerting, and either the sixteenths are too quick or the eights too long in the last bar, which is only marked ruhig. In III I would prefer the entire dynamic down a notch. It is in proportion, but going beyond the markings changes the character of the piece. If you are already f at the end of bar 9, then the only way to go is ff at the end of 10, and that ain’t what’s written. It may be an editing fault, but there’s a missing E in bar 23 of V, and I’d want to do that whole passage again, in fact, if it was me. What is going on with the last two notes of bar 36? The decrescendo from ff surely runs through to the f at the beginning of the last line – the two emphasis marks are surely not there so that those notes rear up like a pair of rubber Mickey Mouse ears. VI, marked Lied, leicht bewegt again starts at high volume, and a gentle stroll through the park becomes stressful and fraught. Sehr schnell in bar 3 of VII only really kicks in by the next stave, and so the fast-slow contrast is compromised. The little Mahlerian ‘ländler’ moment in bars 6-9 is made such a meal of that the dance feeling is entirely lost, and there’s another note missing in the next stave. I could bore on about several other little details, but again, listening ‘blind’ all the grandmothers will be mightily impressed. Almost every serious student will however come across these pieces sooner or later, and should be warned that they might come a cropper if they take Zucker’s lead too literally.

Turning to the second disc, it’s nice that Zucker includes Carl Nielsen’s rarely played miniature, The Children are Playing. Marked ‘Allegretto’, Zucker unfortunately goes at it hammer and tongs as regards tempo so that the children are left looking on in confusion as the big grown-up takes over their game. It’s that Jeremy Hardy line: ‘finger painting? Never mind that, I’ve got a fax machine!’ Taken at a milder tempo, the ‘poco vivo’ in bar 16 need not have the same tempo as the ‘a tempo’ in bar 19. That little section is like a child having more than one attempt at something, not competition day at the Academy. The ‘a tempo’ at bar 30 is a rushed joke, and I think Zucker has lost patience by now – she certainly makes no effort to play the optional repeat. Nielsen came from a gently provincial, country background, and his idea of children playing has to have been different to this.

Edgard Varèse’s Density 21.5 was famously named for the inauguration of Georges Barrère’s platinum flute, 21.5 being the density of platinum. Zucker’s playing here is powerful, dark and edgy – you could imagine her flute being made of platinum as well, which I’m sure is the effect most flautists attempt with this piece. My only minor beef here is the lack of any real ‘p’. Take the ‘p subito’ at the end of bar 7 as an example. The soft lows more often than not get the full growl here as well as the hard highs, but surely the nature of the piece is to illustrate extreme breadth of dynamic range, as well as the raw power of the new material.

To conclude, this double CD is an ambitious and in general well-played sample of a wide variety of solo flute music. It will be an education for many to find that Takemitsu and even Fukushima don’t sound that difficult and modern after all, and there is a good deal of repertoire here I defy anyone to find anywhere else - for that I salute this issue. Laurel Zucker has apparently chosen not to go for the alto, bass-flute or piccolo repertoire to vary the timbre, but there is enough variety in the programming to maintain interest, and I won’t start making lists of pieces which might have been included. Only the Kuhlau Divertissement sit a little strangely with the rest, like a bunch of studies thrown in to show the player can ‘do’ that kind of romantic showpiece as well. These could easily have been left out, and the rest might just have been squeezed onto one CD.

 

Dominy Clements

 

 



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