Nowadays if you miss live performances of
a new opera from an established composer there is a good chance
that it will be available as a recording, possibly even as a DVD.
In the nineteenth century if you missed one or wanted to repeat
the experience the alternative was through transcriptions. These
could range from a straightforward vocal score - Bernard Shaw
was said to have spent many hours playing and singing in this
way - by way of a variety of selections and dance arrangements
for piano or various instrumental groups, to concert works intended
for the professional or gifted amateur performer. This disc consists
of nine of the latter, mainly for flute and piano but relieved
by two short piano solos by Raff.
Apart from Raff, the names of the composers here are unlikely to be known other than to flautists. Most were indeed not only flautists themselves but wrote large quantities of studies and concert works for the instrument. Popp for instance wrote over six hundred works and Krakamp nearly three hundred, and studies of varying degrees of difficulty by Gariboldi, Popp and Demersseman are familiar to every flautist. They are however less likely to be as familiar with the works on this disc. Certainly like the studies they display all the characteristics of the instrument and test the player’s technique, but what may be less expected is that they are also very imaginative and entertaining as music. This may not be music of great depth or range – mention of the achievements of Liszt is out of place in this context, but it is extremely effective. It is not hard to imagine how well it would be received in a salon or in a small concert hall at the time that it was written.
Fortunately the two players on this disc understand both its qualities and its limitations very well. Both are Swiss, and they have been playing together since 2001. They play with complete rapport, considerable virtuosity where required, and are well balanced, so that the flute does not unrealistically overwhelm the piano. Miriam Terragni has a very beautiful tone, avoiding the excessive vibrato that some better known flautists employ, but with a surprisingly large range of dynamics and articulation. All in all both players do full justice the music and present it to its best advantage.
A quick glance at the titles of the items may suggest an excess of Verdi, and in particular of music based on “La Traviata”. However although both Krakamp and Remusat end their works with “Sempre libera”, their choice of items from the opera is otherwise quite different, whilst Raff’s piano solo is based entirely on a single section of the opera – the ensemble that ends Act 2. The otherwise helpful and full notes by Robert Matthew-Walker do not identify on which sections of each opera the various works are based but this is of minor importance. As a whole, this is an extremely entertaining disc likely to have appeal for many more than merely flautists and opera lovers.