> Fantasie: French flute []: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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FANTAISIE: Romantic French Flute Music
George HUË (1858-1948)

Gigue (1901), Nocturne (1901)
Pierre VILLETTE (1926-1998)

Complainte (1954)
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)

Romance, op. 37 (1871), Odelette, op. 162 (1920)
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937), orch. Arthur HOÉRÉE

Pièce en forme de habañera (1907)
Benjamin GODARD (1849-1895)

Suite, op. 116
Henri BÜSSER (1872-1973)

Andalucia, op. 86 (1933)
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924), orch Louis AUBERT

Fantaisie, op. 111 (1898)
Albert PÉRILHOU (1846-1936)

Ballade (1903)
Charles-Marie WIDOR (1844-1937)

Suite, op. 34 (1898): Scherzo (arr. Beckett), Romance (arr. Widor)
Edward Beckett (flute)
London Festival Orchestra/Ross Pople
Recorded 2nd-3rd March 1999 at The Warehouse, London
BLACK BOX BBM 1049 [66’ 36"]


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Edward Beckett is an Irishman but his musical education took a French slant from a very early stage, beginning in Ireland itself where he studied with the French flautist André Prieur (who was the also the conductor, with the New Irish Chamber Orchestra, of James Galway’s long deleted first recording of the Mozart Concertos). He then enrolled at the Paris Conservatoire and, having graduated, spent a number of years working with Jean-Pierre Rampal and Marcel Moyse.

In his elegant, understated manner and in his control of long sinuous lines, Beckett exhibits typically French virtues. He may not have the outsize personality or the charisma of his countryman Galway but perhaps he prefers, in any case, to put his flawless command of his instrument at the service of his comprehensive musicianship and of the composers themselves. All these performances seem to me to be ideal.

He gets an excellent recording, with a very natural balance. The downside of a very natural balance is that there is no attempt to bring the soloist forward on the sonic stage, so occasionally (no more often than that) he almost disappears under the orchestra. You may have your own views on this. My feeling is that, though it is pretty much what we would hear at a concert, it may be necessary for a recording to compensate just slightly for the fact that we can’t actually see the player. On the other hand, it does allow us to hear the truth of Andrew Brest’s observation in the notes that Godard’s Suite shows "a great understanding of the flute with its light orchestral accompaniment", for the solo instrument is well forward in this piece.

I thought I had a fair knowledge of the flute repertoire (as non-flautists go) but I must admit that there are some composers here I had never heard of. Huë’s two pieces are attractive and well-made without actually making me want to find out what else he had written, but Pierre Villette’s "Complainte" did arouse my curiosity. If you have any friends with particular leanings towards British composers, you might try the opening of this on them as a guessing game. With its gentle, folksy theme underpinned by bittersweet post-impressionist harmonies the odds are they will suggest names like Ireland or Finzi.

Beautiful as this is, the Saint-Saëns "Romance" is better still, quite gorgeous, and had me reflecting that there are, after all, reasons why we remember some composers more than others. Except that the following "Odelette", a mellifluously fluent but bland production of his later years, had me reflecting that there are also good reasons why we certainly remember Saint-Saëns but we don’t put him on a pedestal either. Give me Pierre Villette at his best any day.

Ravel restores our faith in the big names, but so does Benjamin Godard in the smaller ones. After a brief opening movement the following "Idylle" is exquisite, while the concluding "Valse" gives the soloist plenty of fireworks without ever descending into banality.

You will have encountered Henri Büsser as an orchestrator (of some Debussy piano pieces, for example) but here he is an orchestrator of himself. This is the only piece on the disc to employ brass and percussion on a large scale and, while I do not doubt Adrian Brett’s assertion that it was originally written for flute and piano, I find it almost impossible to believe that it was conceived without this range of colour in mind. It is in fact the colours more than the themes of this effective piece which remain in the mind.

I am not sure that the Fauré "Fantaisie" benefits particularly from an orchestral accompaniment, particularly at the beginning where the accompaniment seems bare – the orchestrator has put in all the notes, but on the piano some discreet pedalling can fill these spare textures. But the performance is excellent – aspiring flautists might note that the opening section shouldn’t be too slow and romantic.

Though Albert Périlhou was a friend of Fauré his "Ballade" is the least French-sounding piece on the disc, closer to Schumann in manner. It is expertly written. Widor, too, is not as French-sounding a composer as many, but his pieces have much charm, especially the "Romance".

There’s a feel-good quality about this disc which should commend it even to those who are not especially enamoured of the flute. Indeed, if you look at the dates of the most of the composers (excepting Godard but most signally including Büsser, with Widor, Huë and Périlhou not far behind), you will notice that writing music for the flute seems a fair guarantee of longevity. And don’t let the booklet deceive you over Pierre Villette, whose dates it gives as 1926-1969. In fact he died, as shown above, in 1998.

Christopher Howell


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