Works for solo flute
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Partita in A minor BWV 1013 [15:12]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Syrinx [2:35]
John BUCKLEY (b.1951)
Winter Echoes (2008) [3:14]
Sea Echoes (2008) [3:18]
Toru TAKEMITSU (1930-1996)
Itinerant (1989) [3:12]
Sigfrid KARG-ELERT (1877-1933)
Sonata appassionata Op.140 [4:42]
Donnacha DENNEHY (b.1970)
fAt (2000, rev 2005) [5:52]
Edgard VARESE (1883-1965)
Density 21.5 (1962) [3:22]
Arthur HONEGGER (1892-1955)
Danse de la Chèvre (1921) [3:25]
Peter Michael HAMEL (1717-1757)
Traumzeit [11:24]
Severio MERCADANTE (1717-1757)
Variations on La ci darem la mano [3:53]
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Sonata in A minor Wq 132 (1758) [12:59]
William Dowdall (flute)
rec. January 2007, January 2008 and August 2008, Gallagher Concert Chamber, University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. DDD

This disc of solo flute repertoire, one of many on the market, contains standard works, such as the sonatas by J.S. and C.P.E. Bach, Debussy’s Syrinx and works by Takemitsu, Honegger and Varèse. There are also some less familiar works, such as those by John Buckley and Donnacha Dennehy. The sleeve-notes are excellent, and provide score extracts, as well as information about which flutes are being played for each piece.

In the performance of solo works particularly, sound quality is everything. Here the microphone is placed too close to the flute to give a clear sound; the air in the tone is distracting and detracts from the overall performance. The opening J.S. Bach Sonata is generally well handled, although it lacked the musical finesse of some of the recordings I’ve heard; the interpretation is not to my taste, and I was not always convinced by the musical logic employed. That said, however, there is a clear sense of personality in the playing and some individuality of style.

It is curious that Syrinx is played here on a silver flute and heard immediately after the Bach on a wooden flute. I detected more warmth in the sound and something of a clearer focus, but overall there was little to distinguish between the different flutes. I was disappointed by the lack of rhythmic accuracy in this reading; overall it felt rushed. Flute players rarely play this piece as Debussy wrote, and I would like to hear more rhythmic clarity. The first of two John Buckley pieces is heard almost without pause. The sound quality is much clearer here, with a sense of focus and richness from Dowdall’s Platinum Brannen flute. The performance is generally much more convincing and has a good sense of flow. Sea Echoes, the second of the two Buckley pieces, makes use of the glissando headjoint, and to excellent effect. This is a fascinating and well written piece, which has much to offer and is played with aplomb.

Again, the Takemitsu begins without much of a break. I would have liked a little more time to allow each piece to breathe. Karg-Elert’s Sonata Appassionata is played with a sense of flair and well communicated phrasing. Donnacha Dennehy’s fAt is highly enjoyable, with electronic backing, an addictive rhythmic groove and some wonderful hints of Irish traditional music. Multi-tracked flutes help to create the layered accompaniment and there is a building sense of frenzied excitement as the piece progresses. In contrast, the opening of Varèse’s Density 21.5 works very well. Overall this is a convincing performance, although I felt the sound was forced at times, causing intonation problems. Honegger’s Danse de la Chèvre is played with a sense of atmosphere, and the last phrase is particularly enjoyable.

Peter Michael Hamel’s Traumzeit is a five movement work for alto flute. It makes use of exotic sounds and microtonal intervals. The work creates an interesting atmosphere, but the first two movements did not hold my interest. I would have liked a greater sense of expression in the playing and more rhythmic variety in the composition. The third movement possesses more of a haunting quality and Dowdall’s open low register sound is appealing. Faster pacing develops in the fourth movement, giving a good sense of flow with repeated patterns interrupted and juxtaposed. The final movement uses fast articulation of repeated notes interspersed by an ornamented figure, making use mostly of the middle register of the instrument. Here I would have liked more variety of tone colour, with greater focus of sound in the fast moving motifs to maintain interest. The sudden arrival of strong off-beat accents is welcome, and this for me is one of the strongest parts of the movement.

Two works remain, Mercadante’s Variations on la ci darem la mano, which displays technique, and C.P.E. Bach’s solo sonata. Dowdall’s aggressive opening of the Poco Adagio movement is unusual and unlikely to be to everyone’s taste, and the choice of ornamentation is also a little unexpected at times. The second movement is played with cheerful energy, while the final movement is fast-paced and lively.

Overall, this is a CD with variable quality, both in the repertoire and the playing. I felt perhaps that there are too many works included. There should have been more breathing space between pieces. Dowdall clearly has a passion for contemporary repertoire, and the most recent works are the most successful recordings.

Carla Rees

A CD with variable quality, both in the repertoire and the playing.