Erwin SCHULHOFF (1894-1942)
Sonata [11:11]
Jindrich FELD (1925-2007)
Sonata [17:16]
Bohuslav MARTINU (1890-1959)
Sonata No.1 [18:27]
Antonín DVORÁK (1841-1904)
Sonatina in G (originally for violin and piano) [18:25]
Jeffrey Khaner (flute), Charles Abramovic (piano)
rec. 8-11 June, 1999, Curtis Hall, The Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia, USA
AVIE AV2219 [65:15]
The summary on the reverse of the disc case says that this release is a continuation of Canadian-American flautist Jeffrey Khaner’s “musical journey around the world” for Avie. This sees him arriving in the Czech lands where he presents a programme that encapsulates the best of sixty years of Czech music for flute.
First up is Schulhoff’s wonderful little sonata written in 1927 when the composer was at the height of his powers. That Schulhoff was a child prodigy is evidenced by his entry to the Prague Conservatory’s piano section at the tender age of just 10 years. This was on the personal recommendation of Dvorák himself. The sonata is clever, witty and full of effervescent energy which fizzles and bubbles its merry way throughout its brief eleven minutes, spread, if that’s the right word, over four movements. Schulhoff had a particular facility for incorporating folk elements and jazz rhythms along with experiments in polytonality without any of them clashing. He secures a satisfying fusion of all three and that facility is clearly demonstrated in this sonata.
The three movement sonata by Jindrich Feld written in 1954 was dedicated to the best known flautist of the mid twentieth century Jean-Pierre Rampal and has become part of most flautists’ repertoire. Feld’s name may be much less famous than those of the other composers here but once you’ve heard this sonata you will want to seek out more of his music. With over two hundred works to go at the prospect is enticing. Though it was composed almost thirty years after the work by Schulhoff it is from the same musical mindset. There are just enough “contemporary” elements in it to keep it interesting but still retaining a “classical” feel. You will find plenty of testing moments for the flautist right from the start. It is interesting that sonatas for flute and piano are often written in such a way that they almost always have moments during which the two instruments are pitted against each other with the agile and mellifluous flute usually getting “the better” of the piano. That was in evidence in the Schulhoff and again in the Feld in both outer movements. The central one is restrained and contemplative with a particular beauty.
The Sonata No.1 by Martinu is the work I know best among the four sonatas and I’ve always loved it, especially the way that he had of stamping his musical signature on everything he wrote. You know immediately that it is his music you are listening to; it couldn’t be anyone else. I timed it this time and knew it was Martinu in less than four seconds (!) which says much more about Martinu than it does about me, I hasten to add. The thing is that though he has such an easily identifiable style it never becomes boring or stilted. In this sonata there is also harmony in the sense that the two instruments work together as a partnership rather than as rivals. They form a kind of musical marriage in which each has an equal role: the epitome of what a sonata for flute and piano should be.
The Sonatina in G by Dvorák was originally written for violin and piano but proved so popular that Dvorák quickly wrote alternative versions for both viola and flute. He composed it while he was in the USA just as Martinu was when he penned his sonata. Just as Martinu’s sonata contains local references such as the representation of the whippoorwill in the finale so Dvorák’s sonatina contains elements of American folk-song and Negro spirituals just as we find in his New World symphony. As we know he felt great homesickness for his homeland; Martinu likewise, so in both we can also discern Czech folk melodies. In fact that is the unifying feature of all four works in that Czech melodies appear in all of them and indeed it is a feature of all Czech music full stop; as one might paraphrase “You can take the composer out of the Czech lands but you can’t take the Czech lands out of the composer”. Simplicity may be the keynote in Dvorák’s sonatina but the greatness of someone such as he is that despite that fact the tunes are endlessly beautiful and timeless. The opening movement is created by the introduction and development of an American tune which is both lilting and lovely. The slow movement describes the composer’s impression of the Minnehaha Falls, near St. Paul, Minnesota. The two final movements take us back to Dvorák’s spiritual home, both being Czech dances that weave in both folksong and country fiddling in a spirited and merry fashion. The success Dvorák had as a composer whose works are as loved today as they ever were is easy to understand when you hear his ideas distilled and in miniature as you do here. There can be few composers who knew how to write ‘a good tune’ as he did.
In short this is a lovely disc and anyone who adores music for flute shouldn’t hesitate in adding it to their library but really this is a disc that all can enjoy. Jeffrey Khaner is wonderfully gifted with a marvellously silky tone. He is accompanied by an extremely accomplished and sympathetic partner in Charles Abramovic.
Steve Arloff
A disc that all can enjoy.