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The History of the Tango (1985) [21:22]
Michel LYSIGHT (b. 1958)

Initiation [9:51]
Alec WILDER (1907-1980)

Flute and Bongos No.1 (1950s) [5:59]
Frédéric DEVREESE (b. 1929)

Butterfly [2:10]
Keiko ABE (b. 1937)

Wind in the Bamboo Grove [6:37]
Karen YOUNG (b. 1951)

Migrating Monarchs, from Ode to Nature (2004) [6:41]
Arvo PÄRT (b. 1935)

Spiegel im Spiegel (1978) [6:10]
Ravi SHANKAR (b. 1920)

Raga "The Enchanted Morning" [12:58]
Marc Grauwels (flutes)
Marie-Josée Simard (percussion)
Rec. L'Eglise St François de Sales, Laval, Québec, Canada, February 2004, DDD
NAXOS 8.557782 [71:47]

An interesting recital of contrasts for lovers of contemporary flute music. Grauwels and long time collaborator Simard have collected here a number of original compositions from around the world, three of which were dedicated to them. All of the music was written last century and six of the eight composers featured are still alive.

The highlights are unquestionably the opening and closing pieces. Piazzolla's History of the Tango was originally written for flute and guitar and dedicated to Grauwels. A suite of four tangos, it begins in the bordello and ends on the concert platform, charting the history of the dance and its music. The arranger, who is not credited (could it be Simard?), has done a wonderful job of distributing the original guitar part among an array of percussion instruments, which colour the accompaniment beautifully. Listen to the haunting vibraphone chords in the second movement, or the jocular marimba part of the first movement. The final movement puts the tango in the context of 20th century classical music, opening with ambiguity of key and syncopated rhythms. This is infectious, tuneful, toe-tapping stuff, even if Grauwels sounds just a little too innocent for the bordello of the first movement.

The recital closes with a raga by Ravi Shankar, played here on flute and marimba. A gentle and evocative opening, full of subtle shading of tone from Grauwels, gives way to flights of virtuosity as the raga picks up speed and intensity. Both artists obviously relish the chance to strut their stuff here and do so to great effect without losing sight of the music itself.

The rest of the program is more variable.

Lysight's Initiation shows its minimalist influences, especially in its rhythmic second movement. It is a tuneful piece, sensitively played, but is not especially memorable. Wilder's Flute and Bongos No.1 projects a confident energy and hints at cool jazz influences. Butterfly is short and sweet: a simple melody floated over vibraphone arpeggios. Simard plays Abe's marimba solo, Wind in the Bamboo Grove, with subtlety, creating an evocative picture. So far so good: the music is never less than pleasant and the performances are satisfying.

The marimba solo is followed by Migrating Monarchs, the first movement of Young's triptych, Ode to Nature. The composer making use of the full range of the bass flute and alto flutes and, again, the music is interesting without being remarkable. Disappointingly, Grauwels and Simard seem unable to really let the music swing as it should from 3:40. They play it just a little too straight.

Similar reservations apply to the performance of Arvo Pärt's Spiegel im Spiegel as arranged for alto flute and marimba. Perhaps my love of the original composition clouds my judgment, but Grauwels’ flute, though beautifully played, simply cannot create the long, singing lines of the original scoring for violin. The marimba also sounds too metronomic underneath. Each note of the arpeggio accompaniment registers separately on the ear rather than in pulsing groups of three. The piano's sustain pedal is sorely missed. The performance also feels slightly rushed. This piece works best when played with the title of another of Pärt’s compositions in mind: Festina Lente.

At over seventy minutes of playing time, this disc represents good value for the flute fanatic. The general collector is less likely to want to play through the whole disc in one sitting, but may still enjoy hearing it in sections. As noted above, there are highlights, but not all of the music is of the same high quality, and the performances also vary, though to a lesser degree. The recorded sound is clear and well balanced, but needs to be played back at high volume.

Tim Perry



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