A Glass of Wine with
the Flautist Rachel Smith
It is not often that
a reviewer has the opportunity of meeting
the performer of one of the CDs that
they have reviewed. So it was a great
pleasure to be able to catch up with
the flautist Rachel Smith at Victoria
met between ‘Accessorize’ and the Bureau
de Change, close by the welcoming entrance
to the Station Hotel. A few moments
later we were ensconced in the comfortable
hotel lounge with two well deserved
glasses of dry white wine. Unfortunately
we did not have much time. Rachel had
been performing in the City and was
en-route to the Albert Hall to play
flute in a performance of Francesca
Zambello’s stunning presentation of
Puccini’s La Boheme. In-between
these two appointments she had to pick
up a stack of her latest CDs, Summer
was in August from an address
in South London and of course meet me!
It wasn’t so much an
interview, as an exchange of views and
an opportunity to find out what makes
her tick. I had already read her exceptionally
impressive CV and mini biography: I
had listened again to her latest CD.
I could have chosen to concentrate on
many aspects of her life and career
– but it was her relationship with British
music that interested me most. So, with
limited time we got down to business.
Rachel Smith is an
enthusiast of the music of Malcolm Arnold.
Apparently Paul Lewis, the composer,
gave her a copy of the score of Arnold’s
Flute Sonatina for a birthday
present. She told me that although she
had known of the works existence she
had not heard or played it until then.
She agreed with me that this is impressive
work that verges on being a ‘Sonata.’
The depth of the works and the anguished
middle movement make this a major contribution
to the genre. We both agreed that the
last movement was a little gem – Rachel
was able to sing a few bars and I told
her of a friend who once said ‘you could
lick the ice-cream off this movement."
Malcolm Arnold has
written a number of works for Flute
– including two concertos, and a Sonata.
However I was surprised to hear from
Rachel that the solo Fantasy
is exceptionally difficult. A few years
ago (1997) James Galway released a fine
CD on the RCS Victor Red Seal label
(09026 68860-2) This contained all the
extant Arnold works for flute – including
the Three Shanties for Wind Quintet
Op.4 and the Divertimento for
Flute, Oboe and Clarinet although
curiously he did omit the Duo for
Flute & Viola Op.10. However
this recording is no longer in the catalogue.
Alexa Still, the American flautist has
recorded both Concerti and Hyperion
still has a number of the chamber works
in their catalogue. So Rachel has it
at the back of her mind to perform and
perhaps record these works again. I
agreed with her that they are too important
to be unavailable.
We then had an interesting
discussion about Television. Do not
get me wrong - we were not updating
on the changes and chances of ‘Eastenders’
or ‘Coronation Street:’ what we were
debating was music written for television.
In my review of ‘Summer
Was In August’ I made a few comments
about the music of Paul Lewis and Paul
Carr sounding a little bit like ‘television’
music. Perhaps I had been a little disingenuous.
I had just finished reading J.L Carr’s
wonderful novelette ‘A Month in the
Country’ and felt that some of these
tunes would have provided a fine sound
track for a TV production of this book.
For the record the original score to
the movie version of this novel was
composed by Howard Blake.
Now unbeknown to me
Rachel had let Paul Lewis, a name that
features often in her conversation,
see my comments and I think that perhaps
he felt I had been a little harsh. Rachel
pointed out to me that Lewis likes to
balance his creativity between the ‘box’
and concert works. What the concert
works allow him is the freedom from
strict timings and contrived emotions
so necessary to that particular genre.
For example few TV productions consist
of entirely ‘happy scenes.’ The mood
of the music is often dependent on the
characters and not with the composer’s
personal fancies. Now this seems obvious
– but I suppose I never really considered
it. Much of Lewis’ output for the concert
hall could be characterised as ‘happy
romantic’ music; the titles of his works
tend to emphasise this emotion – Devonshire
Dances; Concerto Burlsesco,
Saturday Night Jazz Suite and
Three Snippets for Four Saxes
– to cite but four. Much of his recorded
music appears on what would be regarded
as ‘light music’ compilations. Paul
Lewis had explained to Rachel that he
felt his TV work was actually no less
important than his concert pieces. In
fact she reminded me that Malcolm Arnold
himself had written extensively for
The point was taken.
Rachel had a few of Paul Lewis’ scores
in her shoulder bag. Mr Lewis still
uses pen and ink on manuscript paper
and produces a neat and attractive score.
In particular it was most rewarding
to be able to have a quick read through
of Elemental Spirits. The trademark
sound of this work seems to be flutter-tonguing
and major and minor seconds.
Lewis has also written a
piece called Russian Scenes for
alto flute. I knew that Rachel had played
the alto flute in the second movement
of her recording of Lewis Three Diversions
for Solo Flute. She pointed out
to me that Holst used this instrument
in the Planets, Ravel in Daphnis
and Stravinsky in The Firebird.
Actually it is an attractive sound that
perhaps deserves more music to be especially
composed for it than seems to have been
She has a number of
plans for future recordings. Lewis has
composed a number of works for her.
Hopefully the romantic sounding Norfolk
Concerto will be released soon along
with Elemental Spirits– a work
for two flutes. I asked Rachel if she
would be performing both parts – double
tracking I believe it is called – but,
no it will be done with two flutes and
A desideratum would
of course be the two concerti
written for flute by Gordon Jacob. Having
recently heard her play the Jacob’s
two miniatures ‘On a Summer Evening’
and the Pied Piper, it is certainly
a release to look forward to- although
once again Alexa Still has recorded
the first of the pair.
It is always great
to hear that a composer has been asked
to produce a piece of music for a performer.
And Rachel Smith has been the root cause
and inspiration for quite a few works.
Paul Carr, who was well represented
on the ‘Summer was in August’ CD has
written her a 2nd Sonatina
which was inspired by Malcolm Arnold’s.
Paul Lewis has composed a piece called
La fille aux cheveux dorés
for flute and piano.
Rachel tells me that this has the most
gorgeous and romantic tune imaginable.
Kit Turnbull is delivering a new work
for flute soloist and concert band which
will be quite a treat. Already Martin
Ellerby has written an absolutely gorgeous
work for flute and the Regimental Band
of the Coldstream Guards called ‘Neapolitan
Serenade.’ (available on Polyphonic
Reproductions QPRM 149D)
In 2002 Rachel performed
Paul Carr’s Flute Concerto No.2
at the Brighton Festival which was well
received by critics and audience alike.
There is an exciting rumour that Richard
Stoker may be writing her a work for
Rachel Smith provides
valuable help to Lewis and Carr when
it comes to preparing the score. She
assists with proof reading and of course
her advice is invaluable when it comes
to breathing marks and a general understanding
of what is possible and perhaps impossible
for the instrument. However she tells
me that she has no plans to produce
editions from the original manuscripts
of lost works!
Rachel does not ignore
music from other countries and eras:
although she loves Baroque music she
avoids playing it on ‘early’ instruments.
She has a number of
the great French works in her repertoire
including those by Pierne and Poulenc.
American music is represented by Howard
Hanson’s Serenade for Flute Harp
& Strings and Samuel Barber’s delightful
Canzone. All this is in addition
to the standard repertoire of chamber
and orchestral works.
We talked briefly about
other English music that has been written
for flute. Of course there is the Summer
and Winter Music by Richard
Rodney Bennett. Cecilia McDowall has
composed a number of interesting works
for the instrument. And a brief look
through the pages of Groves reveals
many hidden and not so hidden gems.
But perhaps it is the
depths of the second hand music shops
that a number of treasures are to be
found. I understand that Rachel spends
time rooting around in dusty basements
of these latter-day Aladdin’s caves.
And I can empathise: I myself often
wonder how much energy I have put into
exploring piles of Edwardian and Victorian
piano music in the hope of comings a
across a great prize. And the good news
is that I quite often do. In my case
it is piano music that exercises me
but I will now be keeping an eye open
for Rachel’s instrument too.
We finished off our
wine – the clock was against us. Soon
it was time for Rachel to be on her
way to the Albert Hall by way of the
John France 21st March 2006