Sounds from Within
Frank MARTIN (1890-1974)
Ballade for flute and piano (1939) [7.23]
Simon HOLT (b. 1958)
Maiastra (1981) [10.24]
Béla BARTÓK (1885-1941)
Suite paysanne hongroise (1914-17) [13.13]
Wissam BOUSTANY (b. 1960)
Improvisation I [7.42]
Bohuslav MARTINU (1890-1959)
Flute Sonata (No. 1) (1953) [19.07]
Wissam Boustany (flute): Stefan Warzycki (piano)
rec. St George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol, 6-7 Sept 1990
Having welcomed Wissam Boustany’s recordings of modern works for flute and orchestra on Nimbus NI6168 I must admit that I find this recital rather less immediately attractive. Nothing wrong with Boustany’s playing, nor Stefan Warzycki’s. The recording in an ideally warm church acoustic is fine, even if the piano is set rather far back so that the sound is slightly clouded. The problem comes with the music itself.
Frank Martin’s Ballade is more familiar in its version with orchestra – one of a series of works in this form that he wrote over a period of years. Although the version with piano is the original, written for a flute competition, it works better in its fuller guise. Boustany plays it well, but it inevitably sounds rather miniature.
The Simon Holt piece for solo flute enters rather abruptly after the end of the relatively short Martin piece. Although it gives the flute a good ‘work-out’ there is really very little of substance here. The booklet note tells us that Maiastra is “a magic golden bird in Rumanian folklore noted for its marvellous song”. The music is based on a sculpture of the same name by Constantin Brancusi which is now in the Tate Modern. I can’t say that the rather handsome bronze pictured on the Tate Modern website (why not in the booklet?) gives any clue as to the nature of the music itself. One is left with the uncomfortable feeling that if the song of the maiastra really sounded as violently extravagant as this it is perhaps not so surprising that there was such a fashion for shooting songbirds in southern Europe. The work was written for Boustany, who delivers it with all the excessive virtuosity required.
The Bartók piece is given in an arrangement by Paul Arma, who for some unstated reason omits the third movement Ballade from the original and makes a number of other alterations. As pieces they are typical of Bartók’s folksong arrangements. They are very nicely delivered with a wry touch of humour where required by Boustany and Warzycki; but the mutilation of Bartók’s original score makes them decidedly unrecommendable.
The basic notes and duration of Boustany’s Improvisation, he states in his own booklet note, “change each time I perform this work” – which rather begs the question of why the work is given the additional number I. In it, he says, he tries with reference to his Lebanese homeland to “express the hopeless tragedy of a beautiful people and country that has been destroyed.” In fact there appears to be no audible sound at all from the flute for the first minute, and then it explodes with a series of chuffing noises and doesn’t really get going until nearly two minutes have passed. What it then plays is pleasant and expressive enough, and indeed rather attractive; but there is no detectable element of tragedy here although the dying fade is very effective.
The most significant work on this disc is Martinu’s late Flute Sonata written after his final departure for America. This is a piece of real substance, a sort of meditation on the sort of musical material that the composer used in The Greek Passion from the same period. In the first movement the flute part is delivered with delightful insouciance by Boustany with perfect syncopated rhythmic touches from Warzycki. Here the slightly backward piano balance is not troublesome. The slow movement is one of Martinu’s mysterious nocturnes, a beautiful meditative piece which Boustany delivers with ideal poise. The more troubled middle section building to a declamatory climax (for the piano alone) only briefly disturbs the reverie. In the finale birdsong is once again an influence, since the music is supposedly derived from the song of the American whippoorwill which sings all night long. The bird in question is a relation of the European nightjar, which is hardly renowned for the beauty of its song, a sort of monotonous churring, but it sounds more varied here. Martinu gives an object lesson in the creative use of birdsong and spins a fine gossamer scherzo from his material. Boustany enjoys himself hugely both in the bravura passages and the more introspective interludes. There doesn’t appear to have been a second Flute Sonata - despite the numbering - which is a great pity.
Paul Corfield Godfrey
Pleasant and expressive enough; indeed rather attractive.