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The English Flute
Edward German (1862-1936)
Suite for Flute and Piano (1899) [11:36]
Christopher Redgate (b. 1956)
Three Folk Songs (2002) [8:27]
Michael Head (1900-1976)
By the river in Spring (1950, rev. 1962) [7:52]
Arnold Cooke (1906-2005)
Sonatina (c1930) [8:49]
York Bowen (1894-1961)
Flute Sonata Op. 120 (1946) [16:45]
John Tavener (b. 1944)
Greek Interlude
(1979) [10:45]
Frederic Griffith (1867-1917)
Danse Nègre [2:48]
Charles Stainer (1874-1947)
Étude in D minor [3:11]
Celia Redgate (flute); Michael Dussek (piano)
rec. Coombehurst Studio, Kingston University, London, 16-17 July 2007
DIVINE ART DDA25061 [73:04]
 
Experience Classicsonline


One of the highlights of this CD is the Sir Edward German Suite. He is often seen as being in the second-eleven group of composers. People who have come across him associate his name with his light opera Merrie England. German wrote a deal of ‘light music’ yet he also penned two symphonies, much incidental music and a number of chamber works. The present work was composed in 1899 and dedicated to his friend Frederic Griffith – a flautist and composer.

The Suite is an attractive piece of ‘quintessentially English’ music. It could be argued that much in these three movements nods towards the music of Arthur Sullivan. Yet this ignores the fact that there is a quality about this suite that goes beyond that particular genre. In fact the middle movement, the Souvenir, is a perfect miniature that balances sentimentality with retrospection. To be fair, the Gypsy Dance owes much to the ‘theatrical life’ of the late nineteenth century.

The flautist’s husband has arranged Three Folk Songs for the flute and piano: ‘Barbara Ellen’, ‘Green Bushes’ and ‘The Wraggle Taggle Gypsies, O’. They were written for ‘Celia on her birthday in 2002.’ The composer writes that he “wanted to create works which contain and contrast stunning, unashamed virtuosity and beautiful melodic lines.” He has achieved this in abundance. There is nothing of ‘cow and gate’ about these three arrangements. If anything there is a hard-edged quality that pushes any sentimentally inherent in the original tunes into the background. There are touches of beauty and sheer poetry in these pages that transcend the original tunes.

Michael Head is probably best known as a writer of songs – however he has a few chamber pieces to his credit. By the River in Spring was written in 1960 and was revised a couple of years later: it is hardly a work of its time being somewhat retro. It is described as “a song without words interrupted by a flute cadenza and a short vivace section.” I am not sure I like this work – it seems to my ear a touch unbalanced and perhaps a little self-indulgent. For example, a folk-like tune is offset by ‘late-romantic’ pianism. And do I detect a little phrase that sounds very similar to the opening credits of that great 1960s series ‘The Man from Uncle’? It needs another listen, methinks.

I asked Celia what made her opt for the Arnold Cooke Sonatina. She acknowledged that it has had some negative press in flautist’s circles. For this reason she had not acquired the score for her library. However, after studying it for this recording she revised her views. Celia became struck by “what could be described as an ‘honest transparency’. With its clear contrapuntal lines, well crafted structure and a degree of charm there is something of the ‘English gentleman’ about this work.”.

I know that for too long Cooke has been assumed to be a pale shadow of his teacher, Paul Hindemith. Following the recent Lyrita release of his Symphony No. 1 I wrote that there is a thinking abroad that somehow Cooke sold-out on his Britishness to become a kind of Germanic clone. On the other hand there is a prevalent expectation that an English composer should write music in a recognisably nationalistic style: perhaps making use of folk-tunes or nodding to the vocal lines of Tallis or the romanticism of Elgar. This is not the case with the present Sonatina: it can only be described as an urbane work that presents its material in a balanced and subtle manner. It only adds to my conviction that Cooke is a man waiting to be rediscovered or perhaps even discovered. Possibly the most satisfying offering on this CD.

If Cooke is ultimately satisfying, the masterpiece on this CD is surely York Bowen’s impressive Flute Sonata Op.120, written in 1946. I asked Celia about this work: she said “I remember my teacher Gareth Morris speaking about York Bowen. He had been astounded by Bowen’s technique on the piano and when playing the piece you can almost imagine him enjoying his own piano part!” The work is in an unashamedly romantic style and lasts for a good sixteen minutes. The three movements manage to be contrasting, yet totally consistent at the same time: the range of emotion is considerable. Stylistically the Sonata breathes a Mediterranean air rather than looking to the colder English seas. For some unaccountable reason the Flute Sonata was left un-played for a number of years. It is suggested that Bowen’s romantic and approachable style became unfashionable. Yet approaching this fine work in the early years of a more eclectic musical twenty-first century I agree with Celia that this is a substantial piece by a fine composer.

 

I will not say that I do not like the music of John Tavener: It is just that I do not relate to it. The present work was written for the 1979 Little Missenden Festival. Musically it is based on Byzantine modes and Greek folk music. The Interlude is meant to take us on a musical voyage: from Bulgaria to the Greek Islands and back. The six sections suggest stations on the journey – they include a convivial occasion at Aegina and Calling at Rhodes. There are some nice moments in this work. And it certainly presents the soloist with some interesting and attractive material.

Frederic Griffith’s Danse Nègre is a great work - full of life and fun and sheer enjoyment. Griffith was himself a fine flautist. This is blindingly obvious from this piece! It is quite definitely an encore number. The programme notes suggest that it is a typically “English view of a ‘Negro Dance’. With this I concur and it is an impressive piece for all that!

I know nothing about Charles Stainer – save that his namesakes are famous in both the train-spotting and musical worlds. And he was a professor at the RAM. This Étude was written by the composer for Robert Murchie, one-time principal flute in the BBC Symphony Orchestra. It is an attractive work that does not push at any stylistic boundaries. I am not a flautist, but I guess that it is a challenging play!

The music is well played by Celia Redgate and Michael Dussek. There is a confidence about the performances which is impressive. The only criticism is that the programme notes could be more detailed – especially concerning the little known works and composers.

Taken in the round this is a fine selection of English Flute music. Typically, it introduces the listener to works that are unknown. A quick check of the CD catalogue suggests that only the Bowen is currently available on CD. So ‘well done’ Divine Art in providing some seven first recordings of some really interesting music.

For my money the laurel goes to Arnold Cooke for his Sonatina. But the Bowen, the Redgate and the German are all very close seconds!

John France




 


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