British Flute Concertos
Jonathan DOVE (b. 1959)
The Magic Flute Dances (1999) [19:20]
William ALWYN (1905-1985)
Concerto for flute and eight wind instruments (1980) (arr. John McCabe for flute and orchestra, 2006) [19:47]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Flute Sonata S164 (1956-57) (orch. Lennox Berkely, 1976) [13:04]
Lennox BERKELEY (1903-1989)
Flute Concerto Op.36 (1952) [24:52]
Emily Beynon (flute)
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Bramwell Tovey
rec. October 2011, BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff
CHANDOS CHAN 10718 [77:32]
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 played.
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 work.
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.
Jonathan Woolf
Pure pleasure.