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Music For Flute
CD 1 [62:30]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
(1770-1827) Sonata in B flat major for flute and piano [23:21]
Sonata in F major op. 17 for flute and piano [14:25]
Serenade in D op. 41 for flute and piano [20:46]
Emmanuel Pahud (flute); Eric Lesage (piano)
rec. Feb 1993, Salle de Châtonneyre, Switzerland
CD 2 [63:20]
Introduction and Variations on a theme from “Die Schöne Müllerin” in E minor, D802 (1824) [20:58]
Sonata “Arpeggione” in A minor D821 (1824) [22:02]
Sonatine in A minor, Op 137 No 2 D385 (1816)
Emmanuel Pahud (flute); Eric Lesage (piano)
rec. Feb 1994, Salle de Châtonneyre, Switzerland
CD 3 [61:42]
Carl Maria von WEBER
Sonata in A flat major, op. 39 [27:27]
Six Sonatas op. 10:
Sonata 1, J99 [5:51]
Sonata 2, J100 [5:58]
Sonata 3, J101 [4:41]
Sonata 4, J102 [4:08]
Sonata 5, J103 [5:43]
Sonata 6, J104 [7:23]
Emmanuel Pahud (flute); Eric Lesage (piano)
rec. 1995, Musica Théâtre, La Chaux de Fonds, Switzerland
CD 4
Syrinx (1913) [2:37]
Edgar VARESE (1998-1965)
Density 21.5 (1943) [3:41]
Henri DUTILLEUX (b.1916)
Sonatine (1943) [9:03]
André JOLIVET (1905-1974)
Chant de Linos (1944) [10:32]
Le Merle Noir (1951) [5:30]
I Pesci (1989) [9:56]
Eric TANGUY (b.1968)
Wadi (1992) [5:41]
Philippe HERSANT (b.1948)
Cinq Miniatures (1995) [8:51]
Juliette Hurel (flute); Hélène Couvert (piano)
rec. July 2001, Musica Théâtre, La Chaux de Fonds, Switzerland
NAÏVE V5128 [4 CDs: 245:00]
Experience Classicsonline

The first disc contains a set of works by Beethoven for flute and piano. The opening work, the Sonata in B flat, was thought to have been written in 1792, although the manuscript was lost so there is some question as to its authenticity. A simple work, young and uncomplicated in style, there is much charm from the outset. This is a duo in the true sense of the word; the piano often takes over the melodic interest and fulfils more than just an accompanying role. The orchestration is sometimes a little heavy, with the flute often low in its register; I cannot help but wonder if the work was conceived also to be played on the violin. Although not Beethoven at his best, this is an interesting work. The Polonaise and Largo are better known than the outer movements, as they feature in some educational flute compilation books. Pahud plays the Largo with wonderful phrasing and colour, matched by sensitive playing by Lesage. They do not overcomplicate, but maintain the youthful feel of the work. The Theme and Variations that completes the work seems effortless but is nevertheless characterful and well-executed.
The F major Sonata, Op 17, was originally written for horn and piano, and was first performed in 1800. The piece was well received and became a favourite of the composer; he later transcribed it for flute, violin, viola or cello and piano. The piano writing here is reminiscent of the piano sonatas, and takes on a soloistic role, once again sharing the melodic interest with the flute. More musically mature than the B flat major sonata, the flute has a wider range of both pitch and expression. Again, this is a wonderful performance, with stylish playing from both members of the duo. This is a substantial work that is a real gem in the repertoire, suiting the flute well and maintaining musical interest throughout.
The remaining work presented here is the Serenade in D, originally composed for flute, violin and viola, as op. 25, in the 1790s. This version of the work, op. 41, was published in 1802. The piano feels a little heavy if one is used to the string original, but as the arrangement was made by Beethoven himself, the piano writing is idiomatic and well-executed. There is much musical variety here, made all the more evident by well thought out interpretational decisions and wonderful changes of tone colours. Pahud’s accents are particularly good; his dynamic range is well controlled and broader than one might expect from a flute. The Andante con Variazioni [track 11] is a particular highlight for me, with beautiful phrasing, a wonderful sense of poised charm in the variations, and a lovely sense of duo between the flute and piano.
Pahud’s silky tone shows these pieces off at their best; with Eric Lesage on piano, this is a formidable combination of performers. As one would expect from great musicians such as these, the playing is consistently assured, capable and polished.
Schubert’s famous variations on Trockne Blumen (Dry Flowers) are a main staple of the Romantic flute repertoire. The opening bars of the Introduction are beautiful, dramatic and poetic. The players, a young Emmanuel Pahud and Eric Lesage, perform with gravitas and style, although the piano is occasionally slightly heavy in the balance. The programme notes, somewhat confusingly, get the works in the wrong order. But no matter; the playing is suitably impressive that one hardly has time to read the notes. The listener is taken on an adventurous journey of emotion, passion and drama, with the players ably taking on all the emotive impact of this major work in the repertoire. The virtuosity of the flute in the first variation [track 3] is fantastic, and ably matched by the piano in the next. The slower 3rd variation [track 5] is lyrical, sensitive and delicately played. The difficult piano moments are handled with ease, and Pahud takes a back seat at appropriate moments to allow Lesage the opportunity to shine. My favourite movement has always been Variation 5 [track 7], and it is here that Pahud really comes into his own and reveals the justification for his position as one of the most respected living flute players. There is real variety in his playing here; the technical demands are met with evenness and security, but above all, he plays the music; the dynamic range is wide and impressively controlled, and there is a real excitement in his sound – true excitement, as opposed to an adrenalin rush that one can so easily get from fear of disaster if the music is just beyond the technical capabilities of the performer - one hears this piece played that way all too often, and not just by students! The Finale is once again well played and full of excitement.
The Variations are followed by a transcription of the Arpeggione Sonata. The transcription has been around for a while, and this is now an accepted work for the flute, which has appeared on Associated Board Lists for a few years. The transcription works well, and feels entirely natural. Pahud’s playing is warm and rich, portraying once again a whole gamut of musical emotion. He gives some lovely touches to the phrasing, and there is a real elegance in his style. The piano playing is equally delightful; I very much enjoyed hearing this thoroughly engaging interpretation, and was particularly impressed by Pahud’s control of pianissimo high register notes. The Adagio is beautiful, with the performers maintaining the simplicity of the line and allowing the harmonic changes to control the colour and the direction of each phrase. The finale Allegretto is once again full of the poise one has come to expect from these players.
The remaining work on the disc is the A minor Sonatine, originally written for the violin when the composer was 19 years old. The opening is strong and dark, and Pahud reveals real strength in his playing. His low register tone is powerful, luxurious and a particular joy to listen to. This is another substantial work, which lends itself well to the flute. Once again, there is so much contained within one work, which is conveyed extremely well by these performers.
It is easy to get transported into this wonderful musical world, away from the distractions of modern life. This is a magnificently compelling recording.
CD3 contains a number of flute transcriptions of violin works, none of which I had heard previously. The opening work, the sonata in A flat major, begins with a lilting Allegro Moderato, which is full of romantic charm and harmonic twists. It works well for flute, although the piano is occasionally too heavy in the balance compared to the lightness of the flute. This is a substantial work, with some really beautiful moments. The playing is once again excellent throughout, and the warmth of the sound is at times breathtaking. The second movement is dark and brooding, full of major/minor contrasts and an almost symphonic piano part. There are big passionate outpourings, balanced by softer moments of introspection, all handled impeccably by Pahud and Lesage. The short third movement, Menuetto capriccioso, takes on the style of a scherzo, with its opening burst of energy full of sparkle and fun. The lyrical tune that follows provides a serious interlude before the opening mood takes over once again. The flute’s off-beat figures have a dance-like feel, giving lightness to the proceedings. The finale has a richly chromatic opening line, and sets the scene for a more harmonically complex movement. The rondo theme never feels overly repetitive as these things sometimes can be, and the performers maintain the energy and expressive power throughout.
Weber’s music is passionate and engaging, although perhaps he does not get the recognition he deserves. He is a master of melody with a wonderful instinct for harmonic direction. His phrases are full of chromatic twists that add pathos without being predictable or twee. Born in 1786, he was Mozart’s second cousin and a multi-talented artist; as well as composing, he was also a conductor, theatre director, writer and lithographer.
The six sonatas for violin and piano, op. 10, were composed in 1810, as a commission for the publisher André. He was supposed to write a set of increasing difficulty works for teaching purposes, but they were rejected by the publisher on the basis that they did not suit this purpose. They were eventually published a year later by Simrock in Bonn. The piano part is more technically demanding than the violin (flute) part, with the solo line intended for performance by amateur players. The style is charming, and each sonata is full of expressive character. Although simpler than the A flat major sonata, these works are delightfully entertaining. The players show an excellent understanding of the style and perform with grace and charm. The slow movement of the second sonata [track 9] is a moment of exquisite beauty before the dance-style finale. The various movements of these sonatas provide a range of moods, many light-hearted, some more serious and emotive. There is much to commend about the playing, which brings out the layers of textural and harmonic interest and diversity of character, without trivialising the music. Both performers have a natural instinct for phrasing, and there is a wonderful sense of ensemble. This is a duo worth hearing.
The fourth disc seems an incongruous addition to this box set. It is the only CD in the set not to be performed by Emmanuel Pahud and Eric Lesage. The styling is fresh and contemporary, as opposed to the dated design of the other three discs, and the repertoire is contemporary French rather than Romantic German.
The CD opens with Syrinx, said by many to be a major turning point in twentieth century composition. The tempo is slightly faster than I am used to, but Hurel, unlike many other flute players, sticks to the rhythms Debussy wrote. As a result, her performance is fresh and full of life.
Varèse’s Density 21.5 follows, continuing the chronological survey of recent French flute music. Varèse was a hugely talented composer. He wrote only a handful of works, all of which are profoundly interesting. Density is no exception – his intention was to go against the traditional view of the flute as a pastoral instrument, and show the other side of the instrument, making use of extremes of dynamics and range, key clicks and chromaticism. The number in the title refers to the density of platinum, the material used to build the flute of Georges Barrère, who commissioned the piece in 1936. This work is one of the earliest exponents of contemporary flute techniques and gave future composers a new approach to the instrument. Hurel’s playing is highly convincing, controlled and enticing.
Dutilleux’s Sonatine comes from the world of the Romantic Paris Conservatoire test-pieces that flute players all over the world know and love – Fauré, Gaubert, Taffanel and Hue are just a few of the composers who wrote works in this style, often with a slow opening followed by a virtuoso technical display. To an extent, Dutilleux follows this formula; the piece has a slow introduction and is not short of technical wizardry. However, this work feels very different from many of the others. The harmonic language is fresh and exciting. Although the work is technically demanding, the rhythmic and musical challenges outweigh the notes. Hurel plays here with pianist Hélène Couvert, and the duo give a splendid performance. Hurel’s cadenzas are beautiful and wonderfully poised. The piano playing is rhythmic and well phrased. They sound as one player with different colours. Although the flute tone has a lighter feel than other players - Sharon Bezaly instantly comes to mind - it is nevertheless convincing, and Hurel offers an instinctive and distinctive performance.
Another musical tour de force in the French music arsenal is Jolivet’s Chant de Linos. This threnody was composed in 1944, again for the Paris Conservatoire. This is a haunting work, not played as often as some of the other test pieces due to its difficulty - of ensemble as well as the solo flute part - but musically exciting. Hurel has a wonderful understanding of the phrasing and the complex lines and she makes it sound easy. The piano part is also performed with panache. This is an exciting performance, full of drama and energy. Hurel reveals the variety of her tone, making use of multiple tone colours to characterise the performance. There is a strong rhythmic drive, and the irregular rhythms lilt along convincingly. This is world-class playing.
One of my favourite works follows: Messiaen’s Le Merle Noir, composed for the 1951 examination in Paris. Hurel’s performance is once again a little faster than I am used to, but it works well. One of the wonderful things about this particular work is the range of interpretational ideas that come from each different performer. Messiaen offers very little in terms of musical instructions and his tempo marks are vague (vif, un peu più vif, presque lent). Hurel is once again convincing, although I would perhaps have enjoyed a little more power at certain places. The flute is slightly lost in the balance in the final section, but the performance is nonetheless excellent.
The final three works on the disc are composed by living composers, Pascal Dusapin, Eric Tanguy and Philippe Hersant. The Dusapin is instantly arresting, and Hurel draws the listener into a world of exquisite beauty. The title, I pesci means fish, and refers to the income of Louis Schiavo, a Corsican fisherman who commissioned the work. Without the fish, this piece would not have come into being. This is a fascinating piece, which, like the others on this disc, shows how varied the flute can be. Composed in 1989, and in three movements, entitled A, B and C, the music is fluid and warm, making use of a variety of contemporary techniques, such as flutter tonguing, air sounds, timbral trills and alternative fingerings. Dusapin takes the lead from Varèse and develops this form of flute music further. The sounds used are wholly expressive, and have a deep musical impact.
Eric Tanguy’s Wadi is a more aggressive work, written for Juliette Hurel in 1998. The piece makes extensive use of microtones, trills, flutter-tonguing and glissandi. The title means Valley, and refers to the Wadi-Rum desert in Jordan. Again, showing a different side to the flute’s character, this dramatic solo work is engaging from the outset. Hurel plays with drama, intensity and a powerful sound; her performance has a personal feel, and one does not question that, as the dedicatee of the work, she gives a definitive performance. Tanguy is an exciting young talent, and one of France’s contemporary composition stars. His music is well worth exploring.
The final work on this disc is Philippe Hersant’s Cinq Miniatures, a set of five short pieces written for alto flute. The haunting sound of the alto flute takes us into another world, Hurel demonstrating her abilities on this instrument too. The playing is expressive and intensely beautiful where required, bright and explosive at other times. These charming pieces complement and contrast each other well, each showing a different element of the flute - the first movement is a homage to Varese and later movements concentrate on different flute playing styles around the world.
This is a wonderful CD, full of variety and some extremely interesting repertoire. The performances are wholly convincing and the players are excellent ambassadors for contemporary music.
In all, this four disc set provides an interesting combination of works, showing many aspects of the flute. The playing from all the performers is excellent and highly enjoyable, and the unusual repertoire contained within these discs is well worth exploring.
Carla Rees


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