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Crystal records

Flute Agréable
Philip LASSER (b.1963)

Sonata* (1986) [14:51]
Henri DUTILLEUX (b.1916)

Sonatine (1943) [9:41]
Jean FRANÇAIX (1912-1997)

Sonata (1996) [14:52]
Pierre SANCAN (b.1916)

Sonatine* (1946) [9:59]
Eugene BOZZA (1905-1991)

Agrestide (1942)
April Clayton (flute)
J.Y. Song (piano); Philip Lasser (piano)*
rec. American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, 8-9 June 2004. DDD

Yes, thoroughly ‘agréable’ listening. April Clayton is an accomplished instrumentalist. She encounters no problems in negotiating the trickier passages in this mostly French programme and, even more important, displays a sure-footed stylishness entirely appropriate to the music. She is helped by two adroit pianists and the whole benefits from a recorded quality which is clear without being at all dry.

Philip Lasser is a new name to me. He teaches at the Juilliard and studied in Paris and at Harvard and Columbia Universities. He is, I presume, an American. But this Sonata was, according to the booklet notes, first written in Paris in 1986, "in a sunny studio apartment on the Left Bank" and premièred at the Floral Parc in Vincennes. The work went through various vicissitudes – including the loss of the original score – before reaching the state in which it is here recorded. The Sonata is thoroughly French in idiom and conception; Lasser tells us that he admires Poulenc, but we might have guessed that for ourselves, especially on the evidence of the third of its three movements. The central largo sets up some beautiful interplay between flute and piano, dream-like and yet clearly and firmly structured. On this evidence, Lasser’s is a name worth looking out for in future.

Dutilleux’s Sonatine was a test-piece written for the Paris Conservatoire and is more reminiscent of, say, Ravel or even Roussel, than of the music of the fully mature Dutilleux. It transcends its purposes as a test-piece and is a subtly argued construction in a single movement. Clayton and Song do justice to its subtleties, though I have heard versions which make slightly more of the contrasts in dynamics.

In the four movements of Jean Françaix’s Sonata, written in the last year of the composer’s life, the emphasis is on charm and wit – was it ever very different with Françaix? – but the resulting music is not lightweight, for all its resolute avoidance of the solemn. Françaix has a gift for doing the slightly unpredictable thing within a secure, even conventional, framework. The Sonata is played with evident affection and understanding. The final movement makes real technical demands on the flautist and Clayton is up to them.

Pierre Sancan is best known as a pianist and as an important teacher of the piano, though his compositions seem recently to be receiving more attention; recent recordings include his Piano Concerto with Jean-Philippe Collard as soloist. The Sonatine has already been recorded a number of times - by Patrick Gallois (review ), Emmanuel Palud, Jeffrey Khaner (review) and Andrew Anson (review) . It is bristling with difficulties for both players, though it is much more than a mere display piece. This is subtle and evocative music and it receives a loving performance here..

Bozza’s Agrestide is, again technically demanding music; here the virtuosity seems more nearly to be an end in itself, though the more delicate passages are charming. It was the contest piece for the Paris Conservatoire in 1942, just as Dutilleux’s Sonatine was the piece for 1943 and Sancan’s Sonatine that for 1946 – a unifying thread to the programme which is not mentioned in April Clayton’s generally very helpful booklet notes.

A well-chosen, well-played programme of music descended, as it were, from Ravel and Debussy. Recommended.

Glyn Pursglove



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