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
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
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.