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Jeffrey Khaner – arrangements for flute
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Clarinet Sonata No. 1 in F minor, op. 120 No. 1 (1894) [21:17]
Clarinet Sonata No. 2 in E flat, op. 120 No. 2 (1894) [20:31]
Clara SCHUMANN (1819-1986)
Three Romances, op. 22 (1853) [8:59]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1846)
Three Romances, op. 94 (1849) [11;00]
Jeffrey Khaner (flute)
Charles Abramovic (piano)
rec. January 2004, Curtis Hall, Philadelphia, USA. DDD
AVIE AV 2075 [61:55]

 

This CD is the fourth in an occasional series for Avie by the distinguished Canadian flautist Jeffrey Khaner. This one is in many ways the most interesting and, for me, the most challenging of the four.

There is no doubting the brilliance of Khaner’s playing or the sensitivity of his musicianship. This is to be expected from a musician who has risen to the dizzy heights of principal flute in the Philadelphia Orchestra no less, and whose previous recordings have received pretty much universal plaudits. The issue here is one of repertoire; while he chose works originally composed for the flute, some celebrated, some less familiar, in his other recordings, here he performs his own arrangements of music by composers who, in Julian Haylock’s words in the booklet, “are notable for never having written a single note of solo or chamber flute music.” Well, that’s up-front anyway!

The important question is: do they work? The two Brahms sonatas are central mainstays of the clarinet repertoire although Brahms also arranged them for viola. Clara Schumann’s Romances were conceived for the violin of Joachim, while Robert Schumann’s Romances are most often heard on the oboe - all with important piano parts, of course. In some ways, I am uncomfortably aware writing this review that my familiarity with the Brahms and R. Schumann items in their original forms makes it doubly hard for me to approach these versions straightforwardly; a more valuable review might come from someone with no prior knowledge of the music.

Changing the solo instrument inevitably alters the impact of the music very radically, especially when the two instruments concerned are as different as flute and clarinet. That might seem an odd statement when they are both woodwind. Yet the clarinet has a certain darkness, a complexity of character that is wholly different from the ingenuous yet incredibly sensuous voice of the flute. Playing a few bars of the finale of the Brahms F minor Sonata (track 4) to a clarinettist friend who knows this music back to front as well as inside out, it nevertheless took him fully a minute to identify the piece – which he finally did with some outrage, it has to be said!

In fact, I felt that this first of the two Brahms works was the least successful on the disc; the brooding, dramatic nature of the first movement in particular seemed frankly unsuited to the flute’s temperament, well played and arranged though it is. However, the second sonata is a very different kettle of fish, and right from its blithe opening melody, played with insouciant beauty by Khaner, I thoroughly enjoyed and responded to the music. Even here, though, I was aware that Brahms has written so much very smooth legato music in the solo part, long winding lines that are inherently more natural to the clarinet than the flute.

The Schumanns, Clara and Robert, probably fare rather better in this context, mainly because the pieces by which they are represented are lighter in character than the Brahms sonatas. What is fascinating – and again this is pointed out by Julian Haylock – is how very much like her husband’s music Clara’s Romances do sound. Yet, and this is equally significant, there is also no way they could actually be mistaken for Robert’s. They have a charm, a sense of line that is entirely Clara’s own, and the piano parts are a joy, having a natural feeling for the piano that is never quite there in her husband’s more contrived textures. But I nonetheless urge you to listen to the second of Clara’s Romances (track 9) followed immediately by the first of Robert’s (track 11); the resemblance is striking.

Anyway, despite the rather hair-splitting issues I’ve outlined above, I enjoyed this disc enormously. At the very least, it’s an essay in transcription which is of great interest to woodwind players. And the sheer quality of Khaner’s playing – technical problems on the whole simply do not arise, curse the man! – plus his empathetic partnership with the excellent Charles Abramovic ensure that the CD is full of musical delights, both for the connoisseur and for the music-lover who enjoys the sound of this most beguiling of instruments played by a master. The recording, overseen by producer and engineer Da-Hong Seetoo, is first class.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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