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Philippe GAUBERT (1879-1941)
Complete works for flute, Volume 2

Sonata for flute and piano (1917) [15:32]
Second Sonata (1924) [15:27]
Third Sonata (1934) [12:39]
Sonatine Quasi Fantasia (1937) [11:59]
Fenwick Smith (flute), Sally Pinkas (piano)
Recorded in the Sonic Temple, Roslindale, Massachusetts, Feb. 16th 2001 (Sonata), Sept. 30th 2002 (Third Sonata), and Jan.25th 2003 (Second Sonata and Sonatine)
NAXOS 8.557306 [55:38]

 

A CD of twentieth century sonatas for flute and piano may not necessarily sound very inviting. Nevertheless, I urge you to listen to these, for Gaubert, though his name probably means little to those other than flute players, was far more than a simple virtuoso instrumentalist-composer. He was, by all accounts, a superlative flautist; but his music reveals a fluent compositional technique and a great gift for melodic invention. Fauré was an obvious and natural influence, yet, as even a casual listening to the opening of the 1917 sonata reveals, Gaubert had also imbibed the harmonic language of Debussy and Ravel.

It’s also instructive to compare this sonata with the attractive 1939 Sonatina for flute (or treble recorder) by Lennox Berkeley, an Englishman who was nevertheless temperamentally very close to the French composers of that era. Gaubert’s music has something of the same bitter-sweet sensuality that one finds in Berkeley.

A great bonus is Gaubert’s excellent writing for the piano, here sensitively realised by Sally Pinkas. She is a fine duet partner for the outstanding Fenwick Smith – there is a tangible sense of musical collaboration between them – no sense of a virtuoso performer with his back to the piano playing to the gallery.

And what of Fenwick Smith’s playing? He is a very distinguished performer, and a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which gives an idea of the level of his accomplishment. His tone is very beautiful, his technique unobtrusively flawless. The way he shapes phrases, flexibly yet without distortion, is a joy and a lesson in itself. He also deploys a great variety of articulation, and, perhaps above all, has a remarkably wide dynamic range, which he uses to bring this music to life more successfully than any other player I have heard, even his talented compatriot Jeffrey Kahner.

It is difficult, almost invidious, to choose between the three sonatas; yet my firm favourite remains the Second Sonata of 1924. Its first movement begins with an ingenuous pentatonic melody, which is then treated with considerable harmonic resource. There is a particularly poignant Andante, with a wonderfully liquid central section, very Debussian, while the final assez vif is unusually restrained and thoughtful, far from a runaway romp. This is an exquisite little work.

I want to pay a special compliment to the Naxos recording. It’s never easy to achieve the correct balance between a solo wind instrument and piano, but producer Joel Gordon has got it exactly right. Altogether a very fine issue.


Gwyn Parry-Jones



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