The Flute King
Music from the Court of Frederick the Great
C.P.E. BACH (1797-1828) Concerto in A for flute, strings and continuo [19:07]
Franz BENDA (1709-1786) Concerto in E minor for flute, strings and continuo [17:58]
FREDERICK II of Prussia (1712-1786) Concerto No. 3 for flute, string orchestra and bass [14:26]
Johan Joachim QUANTZ (1784-1859) Concerto in G for flute, strings and continuo [15:54]
Johan Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) A Musical Offering – Trio Sonata BWV 1079 [18:35]
ANNA AMALIA of Prussia (1723-1787) Sonata in F for flute and basso continuo [10:28]
C.P.E. BACH (1797-1828) Sonata in A minor for flute [14:51]
Johann Friedrich AGRICOLA (1720-1774) Sonata in for flute and continuo [10:07]
FREDERICK II of Prussia (1712-1786) Sonata in B minor for flute and basso continuo [14:21]
C.P.E. BACH (1797-1828) Hamburger Sonata in G for flute and basso continuo [9:16]
Emmanuel Pahud (flute)
Trevor Pinnock (harpsichord), Jonathan Manson (cello), Matthew Truscott (violin), Kammerakademie Potsdam
rec. 9-13 June 2011, Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin-Dahlem. DDD
EMI CLASSICS 0842202 [67:56 + 78:29]
This beautifully presented two CD set is emblazoned with images of Emmanuel Pahud dressed as Frederick the Great, showing immediately the performer’s sense of fun. The release coincides with the 300th anniversary of Frederick the Great’s birth. Frederick II of Prussia was a keen flute player, and employed notable flautists and composers in his court, including Quantz and C.P.E. Bach. J.S. Bach visited the court in 1747 and wrote the Musical Offering based on a theme given to him by Frederick.
The first disc opens with C.P.E. Bach’s Concerto in A. Pahud has a reputation for his dazzling charisma and fine artistry, and it is clear from the understated first flute entry that he has absolute respect for the music, with the lines allowed to be heard with simplicity and without the interference of ego. This concerto exists in version for flute, cello and harpsichord, and was composed in 1753, while C.P.E. Bach was working as the accompanist in Frederick’s Court. The opening movement has moments of lyricism and some displays of technical fireworks. The slow movement is wonderfully dark with some breathtaking harmonies, while the light-hearted nature of the opening returns for a boisterous finale. The orchestra, Kammerakademie Potsdam, plays with a well balanced sound and excellent ensemble throughout. I felt that Pahud’s flute could have been a little stronger in the overall balance, but he plays with well-judged elegance and poise.
Franz Benda was an influential figure in German violin playing. He entered the Court of Frederick the Great in 1733 as a member of the orchestra and later became concertmaster. The opening of the E minor concerto, one of four concertos he wrote for flute, is dramatic and somewhat operatic in nature - elegantly described in the sleeve-notes as a ‘good-natured version of … Sturm und Drang’. The second movement is captivating on this recording, with some beautiful demonstrations of musicianship and balance from soloist and orchestra alike. The finale has a bright three-in-a-bar feel, and an infectious sense of energy. This is an enjoyable concerto, which feels somewhat more cheerful than C.P.E. Bach’s and has resonances of Vivaldi in the string writing.
Frederick the Great wrote four flute concertos himself, and the third is heard here. The opening is taken at an unhurried tempo and this rendition has a sense of stately gentleness. Pahud makes the wide interval leaps seem completely effortless and plays with a considered sense of phrasing and style. His performance approach for each piece on this disc seems to be altered to suit the requirements of each individual composer. This serves to highlight the contrasts between the composers and to allow their individuality to come through in the music. The differences are subtle but effective, and fascinating to listen to. The slow movement is effortlessly beautiful, while the last movement has some well controlled rhythmic precision and a simplicity which captures the essence of the music in an extremely convincing way.
The final concerto on the first disc is Quantz’s G major concerto. Quantz was Frederick the Great’s flute teacher and one of the most influential figures in our understanding of the style of the time, through his writings and compositions. This concerto is one of the best known by Quantz, and the piece has a cheerful, light-hearted nature. The playing here maintains the high standards of the rest of the disc, with simple lyricism and attention to detail allowing the music to speak for itself.
The second disc opens with the Trio Sonata from J.S. Bach’s A Musical Offering, a series of fugues and canons for flute, violin, and continuo, which are taken from a theme presented to Bach by Frederick the Great, while J.S. Bach was visiting his son, C.P.E. in Potsdam. The Trio Sonata is in four movements, and is played with a good sense of style and a balanced sound. The famous ‘Kings’ Theme’ appears in the second movement, woven into the contrapuntal texture. The phrasing is well matched between the instruments, and there is much to enjoy about this recording.
Anna Amalia of Prussia’s Sonata in F is a beautiful work, opening with an Adagio which is full of gentleness and well-shaped melodic lines. The two faster movements are light and charming, and played here with a clear understanding of the style.
C.P.E. Bach’s Sonata in A minor for solo flute has been recorded many times by numerous different performers. Pahud’s version is slow and spacious, with the first movement in particular feeling unhurried and luxurious. He is a master of colour and subtlety, and there are some stunning moments of detail which are often missed by other performers. The cadenza is short but effective, and brings the movement to an enjoyable close. The second movement is lighter in feel but retains the sense of spaciousness. His ornamentations are neat and often surprisingly quick, and the tone quality convincingly mimics that of a baroque flute. The fast final movement continues the sense of lightness, and Pahud achieves an notable sense of contrast between phrases.
Agricola was a student of J.S. Bach, as well as of Hasse and Graun. He entered the service of Frederick the Great in 1751 as a composer in residence, and then later succeeded Graun as director of the Royal Chapel. His flute sonata in A is perhaps less remarkable than those by others of the time, but is nevertheless enjoyable and has some beautiful phrases, especially in the slow movement. The finale is bright and cheerful, with some well-placed imitation between the flute and the cello. Frederick the Great’s B minor sonata begins with a gentle Siciliano, which contains some unexpected harmonic progressions and lyrical lines. The later movements feature interesting compositional ideas, with a cheerful second movement including some chromatic lines and fast-moving triplets.
C.P.E. Bach’s Hamburger Sonata is another repertoire staple which is performed in a number of different interpretations. Pahud’s first movement tempo is faster than other performances I have heard, achieving a lightness of touch while maintaining all the attention to detail that this piece requires. The technical challenges are met with ease and remarkable evenness. The Rondo is similarly well controlled, and played with considerable sparkle.
Consistently throughout this disc, Jonathan Manson and Trevor Pinnock form an excellent basso continuo, with Matthew Truscott’s violin playing matching Pahud’s stylistic precision in the Trio Sonata. With musicians of this calibre, it is hard to find fault with this collection of recordings. Once again, Pahud demonstrates his excellent musicianship, and his mastery of musical style. There is no dispute that this man has musicality in abundance, and although his interpretations may not always be to everyone’s taste, they are always well considered and performed with the utmost conviction. One of the most impressive things about this two disc set is that each composer’s music is played with an individual style, appropriate to the music and giving a distinctive voice to each of the composers. This serves to demonstrate the differences in styles from a range of composers from the same era, and gives a wonderful sense of variety to the discs.
Hard to find fault with this.