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Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Trio for flute, cello, and piano J.259 (1819) [24:09]
Sonata No. 1 in F for flute and piano (1810) [8:52]
Sonata No. 3 in D for flute and piano (1810) [4:48]
Sonata No. 4 in E flat for flute and piano (1810) [5:47]
Sonata No. 6 in C for flute and piano (1810) [8:45]
Stephen Preston (flute)
Jennifer Ward Clarke (cello)
Richard Burnett (piano)
rec. December 1984, Finchcocks, Goudhurst, Kent
AMON RA CD-SAR 21 [52:21]



Weber didn’t write much for chamber ensemble; the liner notes mention only nine chamber works as catalogued by Jahns. Here, we have a lovely set of works performed on period instruments from the Finchcocks collection at the selfsame museum in Kent.

The only other performance I’ve heard of the trio is the one on Kontrapunkt, recorded five years later, with Toke Lund Christiansen, Elisabeth Westenholz and Asger Lund Christiansen. In his liner notes for that release, Toke Lund Christiansen mentions that he considers the Weber flute trio one of the “absolute principal works” of the genre. The trio proved to be the composer’s last foray into composing chamber music.

The opening theme is rather grave but opens up to a brighter, more hopeful second theme which ultimately loses out in the final measures. The morendo ending of the first movement leads us into the Scherzo, with a stormy beginning in G minor that bursts unexpectedly into a graceful waltz. The opening storminess contrasts with the sunny theme, then ends decisively. The first theme, as before, gets the last word. The following Adagio espressivo, titled Shäfers Klage (Shepherd’s Lament), evidently based on a folk-song is, by contrast, quite spare in its lines. A lovely moment is the interplay between cello and flute at 2:43, with the flute in lower register. The coda of the movement winds down gradually and fades away. The finale begins slowly with the piano, then picks up steam and momentum as the flute comes in.

The piece has charm, especially the Andante and the blustery Scherzo. Christiansen/Westenholz/Christiansen take a slower approach to the opening movement, which to this reviewer tends to sap the energy from certain sections. Their Scherzo is substantially swifter, but doesn’t seem at all rushed. The movement has a delightful sparkle. Overall, the two performances are worth hearing — the contrast of tonality between the modern instrument performance of Christiansen/Westenholz/Christiansen and the period instruments of the Preston/Clarke/Burnett performance brings out alternating areas of delight. In the Kontrapunkt performance the modern tone of the piano gives more differentiation between it and the pizzicato cello at the beginning which the timbre of the period instruments tends to make more indistinct. The lovely moment in the Adagio that I mentioned above doesn’t hold nearly as much magic as this performance on period instruments.

The four brief flute sonatas (of six) were completed earlier, in 1810, originally for piano and violin. With minor rearrangements, they were also published, as evidenced here, for flute and piano. These small-scale works - only half of the movements top three minutes - are lovely pieces — unpretentious and with a primary focus on enjoyment. A particularly nice movement is the Romanze movement of the first sonata; an innocent and beautiful melody begun by the piano and picked up by the flute, played with great sweetness by Burnett and Preston. The closest we get to gravitas is the Air Russe opening movement of the third sonata, which begins quite seriously, but dissolves into sunny amiability before closing with a brief re-entry of the first theme. 

The recording aesthetic is fairly good, though I would have liked the miking to have been more intimate. In a living-room setting, the piano seems too distant, with the flute forward, but still, overall, all of the instruments seem rather distantly miked. Perhaps this approach was taken to reduce the amount of action noise picked up from the piano, which I thought I’d heard in my initial listenings, but subsequent plays while wearing headphones do not reveal any such noise. If you have these pieces performed on modern instruments, this recording is very much worth getting: the change in timbre opens up new doors to the works. An enjoyable release.

David Blomenberg



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