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CD: Crotchet
Download: Classicsonline


Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Flute Quartets

Flute Quartet No. 1 in D major, KV 285 (1777) [16:56]
Flute Quartet No. 2 in G major, KV 285a (1778) [11:27]
Flute Quartet No. 3 in C major, KV Anh. 171 (KV 285b) (c.1781-82) [18:11]
Flute Quartet No. 4 in A major, KV 298 (c.1786-87) [12:33]
Michala Petri (recorders); Carolin Widmann (violin); Ula Ulijona (viola); Marta Sudraba (cello)
rec. Baltic Recording, Isle of Bornholm, August 15-17, 2007
OUR RECORDINGS 6.220570 [59:07] 


Experience Classicsonline

Before reaching double figures in terms of age, I was apparently a top notch recorder player. Wooed in the 1970s by the shiny excitement of James Galway’s flute, I’m afraid I gave up the recorder completely, and all I have to show for it is a rather lovely Moeck descant and a pile of certificates from Trinity and the Associated Board. Having thrown it all in for modern sounds and the Boehm system at the age of 9, my lurking guilt at having rejected the recorder was quite frequently prodded by the rising star that was and is Michala Petri. Michala was one of the first in my world to prove that the recorder was a serious instrument, and capable of much more than rows of indiscriminately blowing and randomly tuneless schoolchildren would lead your average parent to believe.

These quartets are of course more often played on ‘conventional’ flute, or for historically informed performance the transverse flute or traverso. The latter pretty much took over from the recorder as a relatively easily mastered chamber instrument for home music making by the mid 1700s. The Fantasias of Telemann and the A minor Sonatas of J.S. and C.P.E. Bach were clearly intended for this instrument, although recorder performances have been released, notably by Dan Laurin on BIS. Commentators on this particular Mozart recording have indicated the similarity in sound between the traverso and recorder, and while I agree they are closer in timbre to each other than to the modern flute, there are significant differences.

I love this recording and have enjoyed it greatly. I have in the past of course been used to hearing more beefy flute sounds from the likes of William Bennett on Philips and, more recently Sharon Bezaly on Bis, but you can’t compare these with Petri’s recorders. I am actually more of a fan of traverso recordings such as that of my one-time teacher Lisa Beznosiuk these days, and whenever I get the chance to play these pieces this is the kind of sound I try and emulate on my wooden Hofinger. The chance, by the way, doesn’t come up as often as you might imagine for us chamber flautists. You have to rely on string quartets falling apart one way or another, or finding such an ensemble with a violinist willing to kick their heels in the dressing room while you do your K number. For some strange reason this isn’t a popular choice, which is why you will often find flautists joining up with ad-hoc string players rather than left-over bits of an established quartet – much as with this recording.

As I say, I’ve had a great time listening to the playing on this disc, but I do perceive one drawback. This will not be an issue for most people, and I’m going to have a hard time convincing anyone that this isn’t just a tirade against playing these works on anything other than a transverse flute of one kind or another. Whatever, I have to state that my only problem with these recordings is intonation. No, Petri is not ‘out-of-tune’ by any stretch, but to my ears the dynamic demands of this music seem to ask more of the recorder than it can deliver without pushing the boundaries of comfort. With a transverse flute you can and do always adjust your intonation with the lips, altering the angle and volume of the airstream depending on the register you are in, and the amplitude of the sound you wish to produce. There are ways of ‘helping’ the recorder in this way, but in essence what you are blowing into is a kind of wooden organ pipe with extra finger holes so that you can get more than one note. This means that when the air pressure increases the pitch rises, and when it decreases it drops – like when the pump fails on an organ. Balancing with three quite substantial sounding string instruments, the recorder here often has to project and push through the general texture and the pitch frequently hits the top end of the note in terms of intonation. This is of course far better than being flat, and is by no means an unknown acoustic effect, but hearing such familiar works through this medium seems to have sharpened my perceptions in this direction. As I say, many listeners probably won’t notice this, even more won’t be bothered by it in the face of such elegant musicianship, but, having laboured the point, flute players and fans of good ‘historically informed’ recordings or sensitively performed modern instrument ones may possibly find sinking deeply into the comfy chair a little less easy than they expected.

All of this said, this recording is full of wonderful playing and some fun moments, such as the introduction of a sopranino recorder during the Tema con variazioni in K285b. Petri uses vibrato sparingly and tastefully, and doesn’t go overboard with colourful ornamentation, and if anything there might have been more. The string players are equally strong, and the overall sound is robust and full-bodied. I’m not quite sure how the recorded sound was produced in what looks like quite a small studio, but there is plenty of air around the instruments and the resonance is convincing enough. The SACD surround effect is well produced but more subtle than dramatic, the heightened sense of space being an asset. All in all this is an interesting set and a fine production which has to be recommended on just about every level, though it might have been nice to have a few of the trios to fill out the timing. Now, where’s my fingering chart ...

Dominy Clements


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