This set of three discs incorporates repertoire which was performed
or composed by Paul Taffanel. Taffanel was one of the leading
flautists of the renowned French School, which developed a style
of playing which has influenced flute playing on an international
scale. His contribution to flute history was remarkable, and
it is appropriate that these works should be brought together
in a boxed set.
The discs are entitled Vision, Dedication and Imagination, and
each covers a different aspect of Taffanel’s musical legacy.
Volume 1, Vision - This opens with one
of Taffanel’s best known compositions, the Fantasie
on Der Freischutz by Weber. Ken Smith’s silky flute
tone immediately grabs the attention. This, combined with the
sensitive piano playing of Paul Rhodes, makes for an excellent
duo. Overall the tempos in the opening sections are well controlled,
and the players resist the temptation to rush through the fast
sections, instead finding musical space and charm in the phrases.
There is never a sense that this is merely technical display,
as is sometimes the case with performances of this piece.
Gluck’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits
is played with similar levels of sensitivity, and it is
in the simplicity of these musical lines where this duo really
shines; simple music is difficult to execute well, and this
is one of the most musically satisfying performances of this
piece that I have heard. Reinecke’s Undine Sonata
follows, played gently and with a sense of flow. Moments
of drama are heard in juxtaposition with some well shaped phrases,
and the flute line is complemented well by the beautifully played
Taffanel’s transcription of Chopin’s F sharp major
Nocturne demonstrates the composer’s skill of orchestration,
while his beautiful sight-reading pieces, Morceaux de
lecture a vue demonstrate charm and elegance
in abundance. Alphonse Catherine’s enjoyable Nocturne
features some beautiful lyrical lines, while Fauré’s
well known Sicilienne is heard here with a sense
of lightness and direction. Two other Fauré works feature
here, the Morceau de Concours, commissioned by
Taffanel as a sight-reading test at the Paris Conservatoire,
and the Fantaisie, which was written as one of
the first in a long tradition of examination pieces.
Two further salon pieces bring the first disc to a close, Mouquet’s
Divertissements Grecs, which is played with warmth
and a wonderfully singing tone, and Saint-Saëns’ op.
51 Romance, transcribed by Taffanel.
Volume 2 Dedication - contains a selection
of much less well-known pieces which were all composed for Taffanel.
Clémence de Grandval’s Suite opens
with a Prelude, with a simple flute line accompanied by a flowing
piano part. The second movement is a playful Scherzo
with an enjoyable dialogue between the parts. The remaining
movements demonstrate both considerable melodic interest and
the flute’s range of tone colours - two aspects of the French
flute school which have helped to characterise the style.
Emile Bernard was a contemporary of Taffanel’s, who is
probably best known for his wind ensemble piece, Divertissement,
which was also commissioned by Taffanel. This Romance
was originally composed for flute and orchestra but also
exists with a piano reduction. Its style is typical of the period,
with lyrical lines interspersed with moments of drama. This
is a thoroughly enjoyable piece, played well in this recording.
François Borne’s contribution to the flute repertoire
remains most notably in the Carmen Fantasie; it is interesting
to hear one of his other flute works recorded here. The Ballade
et Danse des Lutins is a slow-fast work with
a wonderful sense of character and an expansive and expressive
opening section. The dance has beautifully swirling melodies,
and a sense of light-hearted drama.
Concert pieces by Lefèbvre and Reynaud follow;
delightful pieces within the style of the time, with slow episodes
featuring simple and effective melodic lines and gently undulating
accompaniments. The faster sections have a dancing character
and more of a sense of interjection between flute and piano.
The disc ends with Charles-Wilfred Bériot’s Sonata,
which is a three movement work of reasonably substantial proportions.
Taffanel performed this piece many times. It is a well-composed
work with a good sense of structure and considered harmonies.
The second movement is particularly enticing, with a beautiful
slow opening followed by a joyful scherzo.
Volume 3 - Imagination - The final disc
of the set begins with Barrère’s beguiling Nocturne.
Barrère was a Taffanel pupil who spent some time in New York
and was one of the main protagonists in disseminating the French
style of flute playing in America. This is a calm and beautiful
piece, which is performed well here. Albert Doyen’s Poèmes
Grecs are a set of five short pieces for flute and piano.
These are impressionistic and conjure up a sense of atmosphere.
One can almost imagine a set of paintings depicting the individual
Romances follow by Alfred Bruneau and Jacques
Durand, before the second of two complete recital programmes
begins with Doppler’s popular Fantasie Pastorale
Hongroise (Hungarian Pastoral Fantasy). The opening
here is not rushed, and is played with a sense of control and
a hint of nostalgia. The cadenzas are understated and this performance
lacks an overlay of ego from either of the performers. A sense
of drama remains, however, and the latter sections of the piece
have both drive and energy without losing musicality. Saint-Saëns’
beautiful Romance follows, with Smith’s
even-toned flute line sensitively accompanied by Rhodes’ flowing
accompaniment. This is an excellent rendition, which captures
the sentiment of Saint-Saëns’ music very well.
Widor’s Suite is one of the
better known works on this disc, and was written for Taffanel.
Demonstrating a range of moods and colours, this four movement
piece lasts for almost twenty minutes. This well-controlled
performance captures the atmosphere well and has much to offer,
with quality playing from both members of the duo, and a good
sense of partnership.
The disc ends with a gentle Contemplation by Mendelssohn,
which has a beautiful song-like style and lyrical phrases.
Overall, this is an enjoyable set of discs. It is perhaps curious
that there were no musical examples of the works of Philippe
Gaubert, who was Taffanel’s colleague and co-author of a method
book for the flute. Nevertheless, it was interesting to hear
this range of well- and less-known pieces from an important
era in the flute’s history. Kenneth Smith’s wonderful tone and
range of colours is the highlight of the recording, and the
musicianship demonstrated by the two artists was a pleasure
to experience. If I were to make a criticism, it would be that
three discs of fairly similar repertoire did not allow for much
contrast, especially in terms of drama and dynamic range, and
some of the works, although enjoyable, are not especially memorable.
That said, however, this is an excellent document of Taffanel’s
legacy and has much that is worthy of praise.
also review by John Sheppard
DETAILED TRACK LIST
Volume 1 (Vision)
Paul Taffanel (1844-1908) Fantasie sur “Le Freyschütz de Ch
M de Weber” [13:27]
Christoph Gluck (1714-1787) Dance of the Blessed Spirits [7:05]
Carl Reinecke (1824-1910) Sonata for Flute and Piano Op 167
Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849) Nocturne in F# Op 15/2 (transcribed
Paul Taffanel (1844-1908) Trois morceaux de lecture à vue [3:47]
Alphonse Catherine (1868-?) Nocturne [3:57]
Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) Morceau de Concours [2:37]; Fantasie
Op 79 [5:35]
Jules Mouquet (1867-1946) Divertissements Grecs Op 23 - No 1
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) Romance Op 51 (transcribed Taffanel)
Volume 2 (Dedication)
Clémance de Grandval (1830-1907) Suite [21:49]
Emile Bernard (1843-1902) Romance Op 33 [7:26]
François Borne (1862-1929) Ballade et danse de lutins [11:18]
Charles Edouard Lefèbvre (1843-1917) Deux Pièces Op 72 [7:41]
Louis Reynaud (?-?) Nocturne [7:46]
Charles-Wilfred de Bériot (1833-1914) Sonata Op 64 [20:37]
Volume 3 (Imagination)
Georges Barrère (1876-1944) Nocturne [5:33]
Albert Doyen (1882-1935) Poèmes Grecs [18:15]
Alfred Bruneau (1857-1934) Romance [5:02]
Jacques Durand (1865-1928) Romance Op 7 [4:40]
Albert Franz Doppler (1821-1883) Fantasie Pastorale Hongroise
Op 26 [13:08]
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) Romance Op 37 [7:29]
Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937) Suite Op 34 [18:50]
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) Contemplation (Romance sans parole)
(transcribed Taffanel) [4:48]