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Consolations: Romantic Music for flute and piano
Philippe GAUBERT (1879-1941)
Sonata No. 1 in A major (1917) [15.17]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Three Consolations (transcr. Linda Marianiello) [11.49]
Charles Marie WIDOR (1844-1937)
Suite for flute and piano Op. 34 (1898) [18.00]
César FRANCK (1882-1890)
Sonata in A major (transcr. from Violin Sonata 1886) [26.32]
Linda Marianiello (flute); Robert Morrison (piano)
rec. August 1996, Europasaal, Bayreuth. DDD
MSR CLASSICS MS1303 [78.26]
Experience Classicsonline

What makes this CD especially interesting is not just the charm of the four pieces recorded but the fact that the instruments used are of particular relevance. I will explain further.
You will notice that the music was recorded in Bayreuth which Franz Liszt visited on many occasions to see the Wagners. Eduard Steingraeber had a piano manufacturing business there and one of his pianos, number 4328 to be precise, was a favourite of the composers and he often played it. It is known that one of these occasions was on 27 June 1886. This is the mellifluous instrument played here by Robert Morrison who is perhaps better known as assistant Conductor at the Metropolitan Opera. This piano possesses an idyllic piano dynamic and very little volume above mf. In addition the flute used by Linda Marianiello was made by Verne Q. Powell around 1930. Its tone is gentle and the two together make a lovely and wistful balance. As the anonymous booklet notes tell us “the music features both instruments in equal partnership and neither should dominate”. The overall sound of this recital is one of intimacy and to quote again “The music for this recording was selected with the ambience of a nineteenth-century salon or small concert hall in mind”.
It is appropriate therefore that Liszt should feature here despite the fact that he did not write anything for flute and piano.  The ‘Three Consolations’ have been arranged by Linda Marianiello from the piano pieces numbers two, three and four. She gave the first performance of them at Bayreuth using this Liszt piano. They represent Liszt in a romantic, meditative almost vacant mood. They work beautifully for these two instruments and are especially effective in the lower registers in the third piece.
The three movement Sonata by Philippe Gaubert is not dated in the booklet, but it is of 1917. It is his first of three. He was professor of flute at the Paris Conservatoire and no flautist can escape his music. But why would they want to: the Sonata is melodic, vaguely impressionistic and highly attractive as well as being good to play. There are several challenges not immediately apparent to the listener. The work makes an ideal opener for the CD.
Perhaps, like me, you only know of Charles Marie Widor through his organ symphonies and especially through the famous Toccata. If that’s the case, this four movement Suite for flute and piano will come as a pleasant surprise. The insert notes somewhat over-state the case when they describe the first and third movements as dramatic and brooding. These instruments cannot quite do ‘dramatic’. The second movement is breathless and exhilarating and so is the finale. The virtuosity of both instruments is fully displayed.
Marianiello and Morrison  are a real partnership. Both players show themselves to be masters of fine phrasing and dynamics, building an overall architectural picture and defying the inherent limitations of their respective instruments. This is especially evident in the last work under the microscope here: the longest on the CD, the César Franck Sonata. 
The booklet notes contain an interesting essay on Bayreuth and its history. There are background notes on the performers with photographs. We can also read about the instruments but there’s nothing about the music. I cannot therefore tell you if this flute sonata, originally written for the violin, is the version transcribed by Franck himself or by some other gifted flautist. I might in certain circumstances have said that the flute cannot convey adequately the moments of power and passion that come throughout the work. However in the context of this piano and with such a natural balance between the instruments aided by a super recording, that criticism will not hold water. You might however feel a little emotionally let down at the end as the work in this version appears to be somewhat lighter and more amiable than its original.
I’m not quite sure why this disc, recorded in 1996, has only just been made available for reviewing but it well worth hearing and admiring. Whether at the end of the day I shall ever get around to playing it again I’m not so sure.
Gary Higginson


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