Edward III no longer sits on the English throne, and so his
country’s claim to the Kingship of France is pretty rusty.
And even given the rancorous attempts at annexation and retention
of Normandy and Calais, one would have thought that the attempt
to conquer and annexe Francis Poulenc - was there ever a Frenchman
more French? - would end in dismal failure. Can Poulenc’s
Flute Sonata be called a British Flute Concerto? More of that
in a moment.
We begin Emily Beynon’s engaging recital with Jonathan
Dove’s The Magic Flute Dances. This is musically
true in his treatment - though am I alone in noting a sly allusion
to John Adams’s The Chairman Dances?After
the opera finishes Dove imagines the Magic Flute dancing on,
taking the instrument very high at points in a kind of fantasia
luxuriating in virtuosity. The flute finds itself in love with
Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön, and Dove establishes
a clear narrative of conceit-or at least he does to me. We move
on to a cadential passage, then darker colours emerge and hints
of unease, followed by over-blowing gentleness - if that’s
not put it in too contradictory a way. There are hints of blue
notes, too, before we return to earlier themes, high once again,
in a cyclically intoxicated Elysian spree, as the flute assumes
independence and freedom. That’s my own narrative interpretation,
but the fun is that one can play out one’s own. It’s
a delightful work - knowing, naughty, and brilliantly played
by Beynon, who premiered it back in 1999.
William Alwyn’s 1980 Concerto for Flute and Eight Wind
Instruments was arranged for orchestra by John McCabe in 2006.
So this is another not-quite-a-concerto situation. There’s
plenty of virtuosity inherent in the writing, though, and witty
French clarity too; Les Six hijinx are cross-pollinated orchestrally
with hints of Prokofiev; add a ballroom waltz of hallucinatory
intensity, hints of Tristan, and a degree of wariness,
before dramatic closure, and you have an exciting work, excitingly
Lennox Berkeley’s Flute Concerto was written in the early
1950s. He recorded it with James Galway. It’s felicitously
scored, as ever, a thoughtful, largely internalized work that
rejects the blandishments of easy virtuoso runs, instead reflecting,
suggesting, and refracting with prismic clarity. There are certainly
moments in which the soloist can soar with aerial grace but
these are part of a more wide ranging, thoughtfully pensive
scheme for this thoroughly approachable and rather beautiful
Now for the Frenchman. Berkeley himself arranged Poulenc’s
Flute Sonata as a Concerto in 1976, thirteen years after Poulenc’s
death. Beynon has already recorded the original sonata version,
and one finds that finely though she plays it’s difficult
for Berkeley to translate the pianistic into his new tissue
of sound. Warmly done, though it clearly is - the neo-baroque
figures and brisk orchestration in the finale especially - it’s
doubtful that one would really want to listen to it too often.
It’s a little too blunting of the original. So, no annexation
really in this Anglo-French alliance.
But elsewhere, pure pleasure.